Gallipoli Diary - May 1915

SATURDAY – 1/5/15 – Battle commenced again at daylight with renewed vigour. We cannot see our troops from the ship as they are now a little distance inland. The warships have been very busy all day bombarding the Turkish position, and the enemies artillery fire has been very continuous and they seem to be bursting their shrapnel well over our position. One cannot but admire good shooting, even by an enemy. We think that there must be a fair sprinkling of German gunners amongst the Turk's artillery.

SUNDAY – 2/5/l5 – Everything quiet until about 6.45 p.m. when a terrific bombardment was started by the battleship and everything points to a big attack on the Turks’ hill position taking place tonight. As I go to bed the bombardment is still heavy, and the rifles and machine guns on shore are also having a merry time.

MONDAY – 3/5/15 – Fighting proceeding fiercely all last night but cooled off a little this morning. Casualties amongst our troops very heavy and the hill still in possession of the Turks. The Otago infantry were cut up last night and after the battle only 340 answered the roll call, out of a total strength of over 800. Hope Jack is safe but have no way of gaining information about him The N.Z. and Austn. casualties will stagger the people when they are published. We wish we could be landed to help. To-day several big shells landed in the water close to our ship.

TUESDAY – 4/5/l5 – Awoke this morning to find ourselves anchored off Cape Helles where we lay all day and disembarked the guns and vehicles and 32 horses at 8 p.m. After lying in the punts off shore we finally landed at about 12 p.m. and "turned in" at 12.30 with guns firing all round us. We are so used to the noise of firing now that it does not worry us and we can sleep the sleep of the just without disturbance.

WEDNESDAY – 5/5/15 – Gunners left the landing place first thing this morning and  proceeded to the foremost line of trenches to dig in ready for the guns. During the afternoon we were under fire from a Turkish battery, but got our work done with no casualties, although the shells were bursting all round us. At dusk the guns were brought up, teams unhooked under cover, and sent back, the guns being run into position by hand.

THURSDAY – 6/5/15 – Spent a very cold night last night as I had lost my blankets and overcoat. [Ed: Indeed, few had their greatcoats, as most had left behind their packs before the advance.] Put finishing touches to things this morning and covered guns from view by aeroplanes. Big battle commenced at 11 a.m. As I write (12 noon) I am crouched in a trench with the shells buzzing all round. We have not yet opened fire although the batteries on each side of us are replying to the Turkish fire. 12.16 p.m. Have opened fire. 8 p.m. Been in action all day. Fired 61 rounds from my gun. Had one very narrow escape from jagged piece of shell. No casualties in battery. Infantry advance all along the line.

FRIDAY – 7/5/15 – About 11 a.m. – Started firing this morning – range 2300 yds at 9.45. Have been in action until a few minutes ago when we had to leave the guns and take to the trenches as the Turks have got our range and are pouring in a perfect hail of shrapnel. When they get no more reply they will think they have put us out of action and will stop. We will then climb out of our shelters, man the guns, and give them some of what they are giving us, only we will shoot better. Shrapnel knocking earth into the trench as I write. 8 p.m. Finished the day without casualties. Fired 38 rounds,

SATURDAY – 8/5/15 – Had an easy day to-day although the batteries round about us were in action, as also were the warships. Infantry advanced some distance to-day. Rt. section allowed off for a swim in the sea this afternoon. The bathe made us feel like new men. Very few shells fell on our position to-day. Fired only 12 rounds.

SUNDAY – 9/5/15 – No action this morning. N.Z. Infantry had a bad time last night and many wounded are being taken back to-day. 4 p.m. Have just advanced about 1 ½ miles to dig an emplacement in which to put the guns tonight. Turks have just dropped a shell almost on the spot where we are going to dig in.

MONDAY – 10/5/15 – Dug our pits last night and brought the guns up under rifle fire, but were fortunate enough to suffer no casualties. We got to bed about 2.30 a.m. and I fell asleep at once in spite of the fact that a heavy fire was going on. To-day we improved our emplacements and dug out our shell proof sleeping quarters. We were in action this afternoon for a short time and fired 8 rounds.

TUESDAY – 11/5/15 – Partially dug our communication trenches. Registered two or three targets firing 9 rounds. Turks shelled gully about 50 yards to our right killing several horses and men belonging to another battery. Stray bullets are flying around all day long but we have been fortunate enough to receive no casualties although men all round us have been killed or wounded.

WEDNESDAY – 12/5/15 – This morning about 2 o'clock I awoke to find the rain coming down in torrents. I was too lazy to get up so I just lay there until my blankets were wet through. We were a sorry looking crowd when at last we got up, and we spent the morning roofing in our dug-outs. During the afternoon we fired 12 rounds registering targets and laying out lines of fire for tonight. Tonight a big battle took place and we covered the advance of the Ghurkas. We fired 65 rounds and did not finish until after midnight. The din of the battle was terrible and the whistle of the bullets and screech of the shells made the night hideous. We are sleeping by the guns tonight in case of a call.

THURSDAY – 13/5/15 – Action again at 4.30 this morning. Fired 24 rounds. Last night a warship “Goliath” was sunk within sight of here. Many of our men heard the cries of those on board but I slept too soundly to hear anything. It is thought that she was torpedoed. Today a number of large shells thought to be from the “Goeben” fell in the base camp and played havoc with horses, men and stores. Four of our drivers were wounded, two seriously. Two of our horses were killed and four injured. Action this afternoon about 1 o'clock. Fired 26 rounds. Also at 6.45 p.m. when we fired 13 rounds. Sleeping round the guns tonight as Turks are reported to be massing for an attack.

FRIDAY – 14/5/15 – Last night shortly after midnight we had a call but fired only 6 rounds. Turks did not attack as expected. Easy day to-day there being no action up to now (4 p.m.) This morning we put a lot more scrub round the gun as what we “decorated” with when we built the pit was withered and did not serve its purpose (to hide the gun) 4.30 p.m. Can see enormous shells exploding in the base camp. Hope none drop on the mail which is supposed to have come. We are sleeping in the gun pit tonight in case of emergency as a move on the part of the Turks is expected. Went into action just before tea and fired 19 rounds. Turks fired about 50 rounds on a ship lying off our position at dusk and almost all took effect. Admire their shooting.

SATURDAY – 15/5/15 – Had three alarms during the night, at 9.30, 10.40 and 4.30 respectively, but fired only one round at 4.30. Have had a holiday today as we are lying low, mainly, I think, on account of a shortage of ammunition. To-night we are sleeping in our bomb-proof shelters as we do not anticipate any activity on the part of either side. 8.30 p.m. Have decided to sleep by my gun as the Turks seem restless.

SUNDAY – 16/5/15 – Nothing happened last night in the way of action although the French were very active on their flank and were assisted by the warships. A light rain fell about 10 p.m. but not enough to come through my blankets. Had an easy day to-day. Fired 9 rounds about 9 p.m. Layed out lines of fire on four new Turkish positions in anticipation of an attack tonight. Have been ordered to sleep in the gun pit tonight as we expect action.

MONDAY – 17/5/15 – We received no call last night although there was a very heavy rifle fire between 11 and 12 o'clock. Lieut. Richards was shot through the neck at about 11.45 p.m. and taken to the dressing station. No action to-day for my gun. No.2 gun ranged on a target and registered it for the left section. We are sleeping in our dug-outs tonight as no action is imminent.

TUESDAY – 18/5/15 – Another easy day to-day. I do not know what is doing but everything is very quiet. We can see the Turkish gunners digging pits for their guns but are not allowed to fire on them for some reason or other. We were all allowed off for a swim this afternoon. We climbed down the cliff and had no sooner reached the beach than the Turkish shrapnel started coming over. They had the wrong range however, and we finished our swim before they shortened the range. After that our position was shelled pretty heavily but we were safe enough in our trenches and suffered no casualties. I admire the Turkish shooting. Shelled again during tea. A shell burst right over our mess and bullets scattered all round us but no damage done.

WEDNESDAY – 19/5/15 – Gunners slept round the guns last night but nothing happened. This morning during breakfast we were heavily shelled by a Turkish battery. The fire was the hottest we have yet experienced, being a mixture of shrapnel and high explosive percussion shells. The shooting was excellent and as we lay in our trenches almost suffocated by the gas from the high explosive we were covered with showers of earth but fortunately none were hit with bullets or pieces of shell. The only real damage done was to the wheel of "D" wagon which was destroyed. About 70 shells were fired. We had no action during the day and as soon as it grew dusk this evening we repaired the damage to our epaulments and strengthened our positions. Some of our blankets were riddled with shrapnel bullets.

THURSDAY – 20/5/15 – Turks in attack on Austns. made sham surrender, advancing behind a line of men with hands held above heads in token of surrender. Heavy firing on French side although British side was fairly quiet last night. The Turks made three attacks on our right wing held by Australians about three miles from here. They were repulsed each time with heavy loss their casualties being estimated at 2,000 dead and 15,000 wounded. The 2000 dead are lying on an open space about 9 acres in extent. We are still sitting about the trenches doing nothing and are evidently waiting to conduct a big attack when everything has been made ready. Fired two rounds this afternoon to register a target. Sleeping at the gun tonight in case of emergency. Last night two of our submarines entered Sea of Marmora and torpedoed one enemy transport and two gunboats. Only one submarine returned.

FRIDAY – 21/5/15 – No alarm last night although there was a bit of rifle firing when the moon went down. Whenever it gets dark the Turks seem to start firing in fear of a charge. We have had no action all day. The famous "L" Battery of Royal Horse Artillery is dug in about 300 yds from us. The gunners are all fine big fellows and a number were wounded when the battery was cut up in France, and have returned to the firing line here. Tomorrow my sub-section is being allowed to go back to the base to spend the day. This is a good idea as it takes the men away from the gun and the trenches and gives both minds and bodies a rest.

SATURDAY – 22/5/15 – Action last night at 11.30 fired 6 rounds. A and C subsections were allowed a holiday to-day. We went over the part of the ground won by the British and then visited French lines, going within a mile of firing lines. Graves are everywhere marked with rude crosses made with pieces of wood or sticks found at hand. Truly “upon the bones of the English the English flag is stayed”. Saw numbers of the famous French 75's guns, also many wounded coming back from the trenches and reinforcements just landed going to take their place. Visited aerodrome but saw only two aeroplanes. Submarine scare amongst ships. All transports made away to sea whilst warships kept steaming at full speed in huge circles to avoid being torpedoed. Saw ruins of fort and village at Sadd el Bahr. Everything battered to pieces. Returned to our own trenches at 5.30. Action at 6.45. Fired 6 rounds. Sleeping at gun tonight.

Sedd el Bahr castle in 1915 during the Battle of Gallipoli.Photo from The War Illustrated, 19 June, 1915

SUNDAY – 23/5/15 – Turks dropped several shells on us last night without doing damage and we did not reply. Reported Italy has joined war. 20 men allowed to attend Church at Bde. H_quarters at Pink Farm. After risking our lives from rifle bullets and shell fire (we had to steal along in ones and twos to avoid being fired at) we found that the service was only for confirmed members of Church of England. As three or four of us were non-conformists we had to leave before the service and steal back to our lines again. Men never move over open ground in groups of more than 2 or 3 or they are sure to have two or three shells dropped in amongst them, or else become the object of machine gun fire. Sleeping at the guns tonight as Turks are expected to attack.

MONDAY – 24/5/15 – Rained heavily at daylight. Heavy rifle fire and some artillery fire this morning although we were not engaged. Turks shelled roadway where it comes out of a gully about 500 yds to our right rear. They evidently expect reinforcements to come by this route as it is the only road to the base. Great excitement amongst shipping off the coast to-day. Evidently enemy submarines still about. Started a new dug-out behind gun to-day as we have to sleep so often at the gun that my previous dugout which is about 50 yds. away is useless, and besides this a shell carried away the parapet last night and this would have to be rebuilt. Fortunately I was sleeping at the gun at the time.

TUESDAY – 25/5/15 – Improved new dug-out. Turks still shelling road behind us at intervals, but doing very little damage. Shells passing right over our heads. About midday H.M.S. Triumph was torpedoed by an enemy submarine and turned turtle and sunk within full view of our position. I think most of the crew of 700 men must have been saved as about 20 destroyers were quickly on the scene although not until the ship had turned turtle. [Ed: All but 73 of Triumph’s crew survived.] Triumph is ship of 11,800 tons, 19 knots, built 11 years. Main armament 4/10" and 17/7.5" She is credited with firing more heavy shells in the Dardanelles than have ever before been fired by any one ship in the British Navy. Heavy thunderstorm this evening after tea. About 1 ft of water in trenches which had to be baled out. Many men got everything wet.

The last moments of British battleship HMS Majestic, torpedoed by the U-21 off Cape Helles, Dardanelles, on 27 May 1915

WEDNESDAY – 26/5/15 – Slept round guns last night but no action. Further improved new dug-out. Officially announced that Italy has declared war on Austria. Enemy continue to shell road behind us. 10th Battery lost 58 horses from shell fire while picketed in mullah [? mulga, meaning scrub] behind us. Austro-German submarine captured, three others supposed to be at large. Reported that naval battle is in progress in North Sea. Reported sinking of large Turkish gun-boat off Constantinople. Merchantman was also sunk at same time as “Triumph” yesterday. Further improved dug-out.

THURSDAY – 27/5/15 – H.M.S. Majestic torpedoed and sunk off base camp at 6.30 this morning. Majority of crew saved. Pre-dreadnought of 14,900 tons. Built 20 years. 18 knots, crew 957, Main armament 4/12" and 12/6". Saw large warship, name unknown, and number of torpedo destroyers firing into sea evidently at Submarine. Action this afternoon about 3.30 but fired only 1 round percussion each gun. Must be shortage of ammunition.

FRIDAY – 28/5/15 – Rumours of sinking of French battleship and transport at Lemnos, also of Allies' advance in France. Understand that 6th Austn. and Lancashire batteries and ourselves are being formed into separate brigade. Many troops arriving from England. Do not think that grand assault on Echo Babre [Achi Baba?] will now be long delayed. Rumours in the trenches that Kitchener says it must be taken within three weeks. Up to 20th May 35,000 Turkish wounded are reported to have arrived at Constantinople. Their losses estimated at 70,000 to date. Owing to submarine blockade prices have advanced in Constantinople. So many wounded causing great unrest in Turkey.

SATURDAY – 29/5/15 – It is said that the battleship sunk in Lemnos was not French, but the British ship H.M.S. Euryalus [Ed: The H.M.S. Euryalus survived the war, so this rumour was incorrect]. To-day was right section rest day and we spent most of it in the sea. These rest days are being given so that we will be fit when the time for great activity comes. The Major expects that before long we may have to man the gun for three days at a stretch. New targets given to guns to-day, and registered. One of them being "Gallipoli Bill" a big howitzer which drops “coalboxes” on unwary batteries occasionally.

SUNDAY – 30/5/15 – Still inactive as far as the expected big engagement is concerned. Fired two rounds to check our line. This drew the fire of a Turkish battery who fired four rounds at us but did no damage although their shooting was good. Wrote two letters to-day, but had great trouble to secure envelopes and finally purchased 7 for a fortnight's issue of cigarettes and tobacco.

MONDAY – 31/5/15 – Another rest day and spent the greater part of it as before in the water. Fired four rounds this afternoon to check lines. Conference of Battery commanders and Naval gunnery men on Ghurka beach. There is evidently some big artillery move coming off. We are getting high-explosive shells for our guns, so when the time comes I hope we shall do some damage. Did a guard tonight in place of one of my men who is away for three days cooking for our forward observing officer and attending to the telephone. All wires to the various batteries are tested at intervals of 5 mins. each night to prevent cutting.

Anzac truce

Background

The second battle of Krithia (as it is known) began on May 6 and lasted until May 8. The cost of gaining a paltry few metres of ground was thousands of lives. By May 11, some 22,000 Allied casualties had been evacuated, far more than those wounded at Anzac Cove. The Australian correspondent Charles Bean was scathing of the British mismanagement of medical care.

 

Glossary

Goeben: a German battlecruiser; French and British ships had been stationed at the Dardanelles since September 1914 to prevent her breaking out.

Goliath: a British warship

Sedd el Bahr: the site of Turkish forts on the seaward side of the Straits

Liddite: the British trade name for 'picric acid', the first military high explosive to be put into service. It had a number of disadvantages however: sensitive, corrosive, a high melting point. (Source: http://www.vectorsite.net/tpchem_14.html)