HELLES - THIRD BATTLE OF KRITHIA - The Third Battle of Krithia was general attack right along the lines, following on from a bombardment which may have impressed some of the observers, but which was pathetic by Western Front standards. The Royal Naval Division, with its Collingwood Battalion, went over the top on the right of the British line, adjoining the French.
As the final minutes trickled away, Ordinary Seaman Joe Murray and his friends were sweltering in the packed front line ready to go over the top.
"We were standing there, couldn't sit down couldn't lie down, just standing there. The fellow next to me was messing about with his ammunition, fiddling about, cleaning his rifle, looking in the magazine. Another fellow was sort of staring. The blinking maggots from the dead bodies in the firing line were crawling round right under our noses. Every now and again if a bullet hit the parapet there was a 'Psssst!' Wind - gas - it smelt like hell. The sun was boiling hot. The maggots, the flies - the stench was horrible." (Ordinary Seaman Joe Murray, Hood Battalion, 2nd Naval Brigade, RND)
The bombardment was suspended for just 10 minutes at 11.20 to try and trick the Turks that they were coming over. As the troops pretended to attack the Turks let them know exactly what they were in for with a storm of fire. When the bombardment reopened they all knew their likely fate.
"Honestly and truly the next half an hour was like an age. The bullets were hitting the parapet : 'Bang! Bang! Bang! Actually coming through the parapet, disturbing the dead bodies, the stench! Ooooh dear me! It was horrible! Between you and I, I said my prayers, "Please God, not only for myself but for my parents may I survive!" Lieutenant Commander Parsons, standing on the ladder, called out, "Five minutes to go men! Four minutes to go!" At that moment young Corbie, he'd be annoyed if I called him that, a young Sub-Lieutenant, only a youngster, he walked past me and said something to Parsons, so he missed Number 2 or 3. The next time, "One minute to go men! Now men!" He blew a whistle and off we go." (Ordinary Seaman Joe Murray, Hood Battalion)
The Turks let them have it, a storm of lead, cut through the ranks of the Hood Battalion.
"Off we go and up we went over the ladder. The moment we started to leave the trench at this traverse, 10-12 feet long, where we were, there were men falling back into the trench or on the parapet. There was dead all over the place. My Platoon Commander got through, I followed him up there. Parsons had already been killed. We got into dead ground. The Petty Officer said, "Well, come on, lad! C'mon! " We moved again and then lay down to get a breather. He was an old reservist, his bald head glittering in the sun - he'd lost his helmet. He was up on the trench with his rifle and bayonet, "C'mon! C'mon!" Around his head he'd got a white handkerchief and blood pouring down his face just like the pictures in the London Illustrated. He was bleeding dreadfully. I wanted to keep up with him but he was now 20 yards ahead of me. I got to the trench and in I go - It was 10 feet deep! There was one or two dead, nobody alive."
Nevertheless the Royal Naval Division managed to get across No Man's Land and overran the Turkish front line. From there Murray could see the approach of the supporting troops.
"I looked back and I could see the Collingwood's coming up in fairly good line. They hadn't reached our first line, they were coming up in reserve. They were lying down and getting up again and they would seem to be getting quiet a bashing. When they laid down, whether they were frightened, injured or killed I don't know but there didn't appear to be many getting up."
The seven hundred strong Collingwood Battalion took part in this second phase of the attack. At 1215 hours the Collingwood's were suppose to take over the advance but the communication trenches were choked with stretcher-bearers and wounded, which delayed the Battalion's move forward. When the attack finally went ahead, from the captured enemy trenches, the Collingwood's seized the Turkish second lines four hundred yards further on. However, the neighbouring French Senegalese troops were driven back by a counter-attack, leaving the Battalion's right flank exposed. Flanking fire caused devastating casualities amongst the Collingwood's, with over five hundred men killed or wounded. The remnants of the Battalion withdrew but so heavy were the casualties that the Battalion was not reformed. (A memorial to the battalion stands today at 'Collingwood Corner' on the Salisbury to Blandford Road).
By this time Murray was in a fairly dazed state in the Turkish second line. The RND had done well, but the French had been given an impossible task facing the strong Turkish Redoubts towards the head of Kereves Dere. Their failure left the RND right flank exposed and the Turks began to press home their advantage.
"I remember seeing two officers away to my left - Denis Browne was one - taking about fifty men going forward. We went forward about half a dozen of us to a bit of a ditch - that was considered to be the third trench. All of a sudden the right flank started retiring, the Anson Battalion. We were forced to retire, hopped back jumped over the second trench; then we scampered back to his first trench. I thought, "Well now if we can stop here we can hold them here!" I kept on turning round and firing, but there wasn't much opposition from the front, I couldn't understand why we were retiring, we weren't being pressed at all. We were almost near his first trench. I was out of puff, so tired and I thought, "One more trot and I shall be in the trench!" But when I got there it was full of Turks! So instead of stopping over the trench I leapt over the top and I was helped over by a bayonet stuck right in the posterior - right in the nick!!!! I went falling right in front of the trench into a shell hole, lying flat in there."
Living up to his nickname of 'Lucky Durham' he managed to lie still until nightfall when he retraced his steps across No Man's Land and made it safe and sound back to the old front line. Nothing had been gained. Only on the front of the 42nd Division was any enduring gain made.
HELLES - THIRD BATTLE OF KRITHIA - Hamilton would find out the depth of his illusions when his forces were hit by the Turkish counter-attacks. Soon it would be evident that it was not a question of the Allies breaking through but rather more of whether the Turks would slash through to the beaches
"Chapters could be written about this furious battle fought in a whirlwind of dust and smoke; some day I hope somebody may write them. After the first short spell of shelling our men fixed bayonets and lifted them high above the parapet. The Turks thinking we were going to make the assault, rushed troops into their trenches, until then lightly held. No sooner were our targets fully manned than we shelled them in earnest and went on at it until - on the stroke of mid-day - out dashed our fellows into the open. For the best part of an hour it seemed that we had won a decisive victory. On the left all the front line Turkish trenches were taken. On the right the French rushed the "Haricot" - so long a thorn in their flesh; next to them the Anson lads stormed another big Turkish redoubt in a slap-dash style reminding me of the best work of the old Regular Army; but the boldest and most brilliant exploit of the lot was the charge made by the Manchester Brigade in the centre who wrested two lines of trenches from the Turks; and then, carrying right on; on to the lower slopes of Achi Baba, had nothing between them and its summit but the clear, unentrenched hillside. They lay there - the line of our brave lads, plainly visible to a pair of good glasses - there they actually lay! We wanted, so it seemed, but a reserve to advance in their support and carry them right up to the top. We said - and yet could hardly believe our own words - "We are through!" Alas, too previous that remark. Everything began to go wrong. First the French were shelled and bombed out of the "Haricot"; next the right of the Naval Division became uncovered and they had to give way, losing many times more men in the yielding than in the capture of their ground. Then came the turn of the Manchesters, left in the lurch, with their right flank hanging in the air. By all the laws of war they ought to have tumbled back anyhow, but by the laws of the Manchesters they hung on and declared they could do so for ever. How to help? Men! Men, not so much now to sustain the Manchesters as to force back the Turks who were enfilading them from the "Haricot" and from that redoubt held for awhile by the R.N.D. on their right. I implored Gouraud to try and make a push and promised that the Naval Division would retake[their redoubt if he could retake the Haricot. Gouraud said he would go in at 3pm. The hour came; nothing happened. He then said he could not call upon his men again till 4 o'clock, and at 4 o'clock he said definitely that he would not be able to make another assault. To fall back was agony; not to do it would have been folly. Hunter-Weston felt the same. When Fate has first granted just a sip of the wine of success the slip between the cup and lip comes hardest. The upshot of the whole affair is that the enemy still hold a strong line of trenches between us and Achi Baba. Our four hundred prisoners, almost all made by the Manchester Brigade, amongst whom a good number of officers, do not console me. Having to make the Manchesters yield up their hard won gains is what breaks my heart. Had I known the result of our fight before the event, I should have been happy enough. Three or four hundred yards of ground plus four hundred prisoners are distances and numbers which may mean little in Russia or France, but here, where we only have a mile or two to go, land has a value all its own. Yes, I should have been happy enough. But, to have to yield up the best half - the vital half - of our gains - to have had our losses trebled on the top of a cheaply won victory - these are the reverse side of our medal for the 4th June." (General Sir Ian Hamilton, Headquarters, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force).
HELLES - THIRD BATTLE OF KRITHIA - When the moment for attack came Second Lieutenant Richard Reeves of the 1st KOSB was in the second wave as they launched themselves over the parapet along Fir Tree Spur to the right of Gully Ravine. He captures the awful frenzy of that moment.
"At 12 punctually the intense bombardment ceased - it was an infernal noise - no words can describe the hideous din - the earth simply shook and parts of the support trench in which I was, fell in from the reverberation. 'A' and 'B' Companies attacked and lost very heavily. 'C' and 'D' Companies followed 50 paces behind, and we had to get up a very high parapet in the face of a perfect hail of shrapnel and machine gun and rifle fire - I ran on blindly shouting to my men - we lost heaps - men falling all around me and with such terrible wounds. My men were splendid - nothing stopped them - we dashed into the first Turkish trench (H9) and all the enemy were standing there with white flags, their hands up - some had their hats hoisted on their rifles: we took the lot - and I at once detailed an escort for them - we dashed on to the next trench (H10) the same thing happened there - all told about fifty-six prisoners - I collected some men, Worcesters and KOSB mixed by this time and we rushed on to H11: about 10 yards from this, I turned to shout to them to come on, when I fell with a twisted ankle into an awful barbed wire entanglement. All this time shrapnel whizzing all around and men falling - it was too awful - I had no wire cutters - my coat was torn in numbers of places - my puttees to ribbons and my breeches too - I tried everything to get out of it - and simply could not do so - I saw four Turks coming towards me - I fired my revolver four times at them two fell and I don't know what happened to the others - I lay in that tornado for about 3/4 hour - our men in the meantime had got to H11 the third trench and a stiff bayonet fight went on - we eventually got possession of it and after that I saw them press on to the next one. I lay in the barbed wire expecting to be hit every moment - By the mercy of God I wasn't although a shrapnel bullet struck me on the heel of the boot - quite suddenly I felt myself free of the wire how I don't know, but I couldn't get up as my ankle was too painful. A wounded officer from the Worcesters near couldn't move either - he was hit in the leg and I gave him my water bottle - numbers of men all around very badly wounded - I gave morphia tablets to several - at last the shrapnel ceased slightly and the Worcester man and I crawled back together very slowly - we passed through H10 and H9 and at last got back to our original trench - we took ages doing it, and he poor chap was awfully weak - he died." (Second Lieutenant Richard Reeves, 1st King's Own Scottish Borderers, 2nd Naval Brigade, RND)
The 1st KOSB and the 4th Worcesters had made a considerable advance and actually reached the last Turkish line. But they were not supported and eventually were forced to fall back as the Turkish reserves arrived. They ended up back in their original front l
HELLES - THIRD BATTLE OF KRITHIA - To start the Third Battle of Krithia the bombardment of identified Turkish strongpoints opened up at 08.00, then at 11.05 the concentrated barrage of the whole Turkish front line began. Once again only the French 75's, some of which had been loaned to the British sector, were well supplied with high explosive shells and by far the great preponderance of shells fired by British guns were ineffectual shrapnel.
Probably as a result of this imbalance reactions to the bombardment varied widely amongst the troops depending on the amount of destruction in front of them. Some, like Private Ridley Sheldon, were mightily impressed.
"It was such an inferno of noise, that I was stone deaf for a fortnight afterwards; and there was a tornado of hellish fire, so fierce and terrible, that spread death and destruction all around. Any orders that were given had to be passed down the Trenches from man to man, by his yelling in to the ears of his mate as loudly as he possibly could. The bombardment consisted of shrapnel and lyddite; and shells in thousands were dropped, blowing parts of the Turkish Trenches to atoms, and completely carrying away the barbed wire entanglements which the enemy had erected. Every shell that dropped seemed to tell; for we saw, hurled up into the air, Legs, Arms, Heads, bodies, parts of limbs and every imaginable thing. It was an awful and fearful sight, most gruesome in the extreme, and blood curdling." (Private Ridley Sheldon, 1/6th Manchester Regiment, 127th Brigade, 42nd Division)
But in other area it was a sad disappointment to those who knew their lives might depend on the efficacy of the bombardment. In the middle of the British line
To the right of the 29th Division was the 42nd Division attacking on either side of Krithia Nullah. The Lancashire territorials had been rank amateurs when they had landed at Helles just 4 weeks before. Frightened by the noise of battle, afraid of the dark, terrified by sight of mangled human remains; unable to perform even the simplest of military tasks, they had been all but useless. Their training had not been sufficient to withstand the shock of war. But they had matured in the trenches, gained that vital experience, learnt to control themselves under fire and now they were ready for battle. The attack was carried out by the Manchesters of the 127th Brigade. As Private Ridley Sheldon found it a terrific trial.
"I shall never forget the moment when we had to leave the shelter of the trenches. It is indeed, terrible, the first step you take - right in the face of the most deadly fire, and to realise that any moment you may be shot down; but if you are not hit, then you seem to gather courage. And when you see on either side of you, men like yourself, it inspires you with a determination to press forward. Away we went over the parapet with fixed bayonets - one line of us like the wind. But it was absolute murder for men fall like corn before the sickle. I had not gone more than 20 yards beyond our first trench, about 60 yards in all when I was shot through the left leg about 5 inches above the knee. At once I realised what had happened, for it seemed as enough someone had taken a red-hot gimlet and suddenly thrust it right through my leg. I dropped immediately and could not go any further. Then began one of the most awful and trying walks I have ever had to face in my life. Just think of it! Five miles to face, in full marching order, with my rifle and all my equipment ... all the way from the firing line down to the base; however I did it, I do not know, for my rifle weighed nine pounds five ounces. I walked, I crawled; I dragged myself along as best I could, resting every few minutes; and I never knew there were so many Field Telephone Wires before, for I was continually stumbling over them. But somehow or other I kept pressing on; and the fact that I was going further and further away from the Firing line, each step I took, gave me courage to plod on - nay, it was nothing less than an inspiration.""
IWM Sound Archive: Joe Murray AC 8201, I. Hamilton, Gallipoli Diary, (London, Edward Arnold, 1920), pp.271-274, IWM DOCS, Captain R. M. E. Reeves, diary, entry 4/6/1915, IWM DOCS, R. Sheldon memoir, pp46-48 & 63