HELLES - THE BATTLE OF KEREVES DERE - At Helles the generals and their men seemed to be locked together in a campaign without hope. Yet, as they still believed that a continuous pressure had to be maintained on the Turks, Hunter-Weston and the French commander General Henri Gouraud came up with an alternative to the discredited idea of a general advance.
It was decided to concentrate all possible artillery resources to support strictly localised attacks with the aim of biting off small chunks of the Turkish line and then using a wall of shells to assist the infantry in holding off the Turkish counter-attacks. The French were given the honour of trying out the new tactics. On 21 June they would launch a concentrated attack hammering into the Turkish lines between the Ravin de la Mort offshoot of Kereves Dere and the Haricot and Quadrilateral Redoubts that dominated the Kereves Spur. They would attack on a very narrow front of just 650 yards, but it contained three objectives of excessive difficulty in not only the Haricot and Quadrilateral Redoubts but also the trenches overlooking the Ravin de la Mort. The artillery support was crucial and centred on the deployment of seven batteries of French 75mm guns, two batteries of 155mm howitzers, trench mortars and seven British howitzers to shatter the Turkish defences. At the same time six more batteries of 75mm guns were assigned to fire into the rest of the Turkish lines facing the French to keep them busy, while other French long-range batteries accompanied by the pre-dreadnought Saint-Louis would be trying their best to suppress any interference from the Turkish guns on the Asiatic shore. In all it worked out at a gun or howitzer for every 10 yards of front to be assaulted. In the days leading up to the attack the level of French fire increased as they tried to smash down and blot out the Turkish trenches.
Second Lieutenant Raymond Weil of the 39th Régiment d'Artillerie was in a forward observation post.
"All along the French front the artillery raged. For our part we made our range corrections with a slow deliberation. Then we proceeded to methodically mop up every last fragment of the Turkish trenches which had to be completely destroyed. Each of our guns had its own pre-determined task, but in contrast to the last attack on 4 June, it was our Captain's orders which determined the changes in pace according to circumstances, rather than following a rigid plan laid out in advance."
The final bombardment opened at 05.15 and lasted for just 45 minutes. At 06.00 the 176th Regiment lunged for the redoubts, while to their right the 6th Colonial Regiment tried to clear the Ravin de la Mort. The French had plentiful ammunition and during the attack would expend over 30,000 shells crashing down on the narrow front during the battle. The attack went and the dreaded Haricot was swiftly over-run by the 176th Regiment, along with the Turkish second line, although the Quadrilateral behind it remained inviolable.
Corporal Charles Thierry of the 176th Regiment, 3rd Metropolitan Brigade had been engaged in digging a sap when at 15.00 he was sent forward with extra ammunition to the newly captured Turkish front line.
"The men go in threes: Legeay gets a shell fragment in the back, Legendre is wounded - many men fall! Our turn to go, a little shiver up the spine! I pass through a small communication trench, treading on the corpses of dismembered men, dry arms, one can no longer find anything human in these corpses. Only 25 metres across the open. At last I am in the first Turkish trench at the side of a wounded captain. We are subjected to a short bombardment. Surrounded by corpses we occupy the trench - I am almost alone in more than 100 metres of front, all the men are wounded. At every moment reinforcements are called for but none come; ammunition is also demanded but nothing comes. I attend to a wounded Turk in the trench. In gratitude he kisses my hand and lifts it twice to his forehead. I want him to write something in my pocket book but there is nothing to be done. The heavy shells from the Asian side rained down: Brumel is hit, Henriot as well. At about 6pm an intense and well-directed bombardment from their lines warns us of a counter-attack, besides the situation demands it. But we enfilade them and they retreat swiftly. It is a veritable manhunt with our bullets. We throw our kepis in the air with shouts of joy. The bombardment is terrible; the shrapnel rains down. I lie down in the trench a few moments later I am hit in the left hand. At last the bombardment stops."
Thierry was safely evacuated despite the close attentions of Turkish machine gun fire as he returned to the French lines. This time, aided by their massed artillery, the French threw back the Turkish counter-attacks and the Haricot was finally captured. The 6th Colonials were also successful in taking the Turkish front line but could get no further forward. The newly captured line had been severely damaged by the French bombardment and what was left was choked full of dead and dying Turks. There was little effective shelter and as Turkish fire lashed across the trenches the 6th Colonials commander, Colonel Noguès, was badly wounded. Confusion set in and by 07.00 the 6th Colonials had fallen back in disarray to their start line. At 14.15 they tried again with no success. A final attempt was made at 18.45 when the Regiment de Marche d'Afrique recaptured and this time held the line overlooking the Ravin de la Mort.
R. Weil quoted in Dardanelles Orient Levant, 1915-1921 (Paris: L'Harmattan, 2005), p.35, C. Thierry, Typescript translation of diary, 21/6/1918 in Brotherton Special Collections Library, Leeds University, Liddle Collection.