19 December 1915

SUVLA EVACUATION - In round numbers, there mere at the beginning of December 100,000 troops at Suvla and Anzac, and the evacuation may be said to have commenced in the second week. As there had always been a ferry service between the Peninsula and the rest camps at the bases, there was no difficulty in embarking two or three thousand a night from each place, and this process was carried on up to the 18th, when there remained 20,000 at each place, and the scheme was to evacuate 10,000 from each place on each of the last two nights.

This gradual evacuation was applied to all superfluous material, and the process was speeded up by the arrival of extra lighters about the 14th.

Secrecy was maintained by working only by night, no wheels or animals being allowed on the upper decks of lighters afloat in the daytime, and all stores had to be covered with tarpaulins. Stringent orders were given against noise and shouting on the piers at Anzac, and on several nights no firing or action of any sort was allowed anywhere, in order to accustom the Turks to the inactivity before the time of complete evacuation arrived. On one occasion the spell was broken rather comically by a Turkish patrol putting his hand on a machine gun to see if it was real and finding it very much so, for his attentions were altogether too much for the Tommy watching from behind it!

A large number of mines and extra entanglements were made, to hamper the enemy if he followed us up at the end, and some very ingenious booby traps were prepared for him, arrangements being made in some places to fire rifles automatically from the trenches after they had been left, one dodge being a small tin hung on the trigger, with a drip-can above it, so that when it filled with water the tin became heavy enough to pull the trigger. My rough sketch is meant to represent West Beach, Suvla, as we had it arranged for the last phase of the evacuation. Full use was made of the blocking steamer Fieramosca, a dredger which had been stranded the assistance of the Royal Engineers the point on which these vessels were ashore was levelled up with stones blasted close by, and gangways or ramps were built so as to admit of using both sides of the improvised pier simultaneously. Alongside the Fieramosca, inshore, two water lighters had been moored, to make a better landing for vessels coming alongside, these were staged over with planks, which were of sufficient strength for 18-pounder guns and waggons to be wheeled straight on to them and hoisted direct into small vessels alongside. It was possible, given calm weather, for a ship as large as the Ermine (2,000 tons) to be brought in with her baggage port opposite the stern of the outer water lighter, her port quarter resting against the break water wreck Pina, and on one occasion 300 mules were walked straight on board this vessel in not much over two hours.

Outside the Fieramosca, paddle steamers, large tugs, and trawlers could go alongside with ease and safety, while motor lighters used the wrecked wooden lighter. On one occasion 800 men were embarked in two motor lighters here in sixteen minutes.

Inside the harbour a sandbag wharf had been built, three cribs, and five motor lighters could be loaded simultaneously here, these were used principally for guns, animals and stores. They are about IOO feet in length and 20 feet beam, and their capacity is rather striking, viz., 500 men with kits, or 110 small animals, such as ponies or Indian mules, or 70 large ones, or 50 pairs of heavy wheels, such as guns, limbers, and ammunition waggons. The above are some of the loads me put on. In the case of stores they can be filled inside and piled all over the upper deck with the heaviest, such as ammunition, which must have amounted to something like a hundred tons on occasions. The principal thing to look out for was to keep them ‘alive’ if not actually afloat while loading, otherwise they are apt to stick very fast.

Pontoons were used for embarking large wheeled vehicles. Two, rigidly fixed together made a float suitable for transporting a 60-pounder (5 tons) and limber, or an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a motor carriage (74 tons), two large motor lorries or three horse ambulances; in calm weather this arrangement was safe, rapid and simple. Resides the 20,000 troops left for the last two nights, there remained the following items : One 60-pounder, two anti-aircraft guns, 32 other guns (18-pounders and howitzers) and their incidental limbers and waggons, four motor lorries, two motor and 20 horse ambulances, about 250 horses and mules, a certain amount of ammunition and supplies, and a hundred odd mule carts. All these, with the exception of some of the mules and carts, were dealt with on West Beach on both nights, the allotted material being afloat by about ten o'clock.

Ten thousand men were evacuated on each night, of which six went from West Beach and four from C. Beach and South Pier, on the other side of the bay. On the 19th only the first three lines remained, and these fell back one by one, the men being mustered in a clear space above the beach and marched down to the landings in accordance with a pre-arranged programme, which allowed sufficient intervals between the batches for the filled vessels and lighters to get away and fresh ones to be placed alongside.

Commodore Roger Keyes, Chief of Staff, Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, was also present and wrote:

“Everything went without a hitch during the night of the 18th. On the morning of Sunday, 19th, I went over to the Peninsula with Lambert and General Birdwood, and after landing the latter at Anzac we went over to Suvla, where I spent some hours walking around with General Byng, who was cheerful and optimistic. His Chief of staff, Brigadier General Reed, would remain there to keep in cable communication with the front, but he told me that he intended to spend the night of 18th on shore and be the last to leave. I told him that he would have trouble with Unwin, who would claim the Navy’s prerogative, since the last to leave must be the naval beach party. He said that he would gladly give way to Unwin, for whom he had an unbounded admiration.”

“I congratulated him on the wonderful arrangements for evacuation at Suvla; there seemed to be nothing for his Corps to do but march down to the boats and set light to the bonfires – large piles of provisions, stores, fodder and petrol, which it was decided to abandon rather than prolong the evacuation. He said, “Don’t congratulate me; my Chief of Staff has thought of nothing else but evacuation for the last four months!” (Commodore Roger Keyes, Chief of Staff, Eastern Mediterranean Squadron)


"SOME NOTES ON THE evacuation OF SUVLA AND ANZAC. December 1915", The Naval Review, Vol IV, (1916) pp.320-323.

Commodore Roger Keyes, Chief of Staff, Eastern Mediterranean Squadron, R. Keyes, "The Naval Memoirs of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes, Vol I", (London, Thornton Butterworth Ltd, 1934), p.501