Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Gallipoli 4. The Cape Helles landings 25th April

Turkish dispositions in south of peninsula before the 25/4
landings are shown in blue
The huge gamble taken by the Fleet (at Churchill's urging) to force the Straits meant that was no possibility of a land attack on the Peninsula surprising the Turkish defenders. Nevertheless, there was still uncertainty for the defenders about precisely where the attacking blow(s) would come, which meant they were obliged to distribute their resources to cover a number of possible landing places on both sides of the Straits. This turned out to be one more potential advantage squandered by the muddled plans of the attackers.
The Gallipoli peninsula is 52 miles long; 12 miles across at its broadest, but only 3 miles at its isthmus, close by the village of Bulair, and only 6 miles across at its southern end. There are four main heights, essential for strategic and tactical purposes: the hills around Suvla Bay; Sari Bair Mountain; the Kilid Bahr plateau, and Achi Baba near the southern tip of Cape Helles. From the defenders’ viewpoint, there were three likely places for the Allies to attack: on the Asiatic side of the Straits near Kum Kale; at the isthmus by Bulair and to the north of the high ground; and at Cape Helles, with its numerous beaches, at the southernmost extreme.
Although landing in the South meant further for the attackers to travel on land, and 
over very difficult terrain, Hamilton felt he had resources sufficient only for the southern approach. Liman von Sandars, the German in command of the Turkish movements, had to divide his resources to cover the three likely options as he saw it. This meant that only 20,000 Turks in the South would face 60,000 invaders and naval bombardment, although they were able to pick the best of the defensive positions.
The five landing beaches around Cape Helles.
Lines indicate Hamilton's optimistic progess
points to move north
Hamilton's plan involved the five beaches on the coast of Cape Helles S, V, W, X and Y for landing – clockwise, around its nose – to be made by various components of the 29th Division; and a further attack further north at Gaba Tepe by predominantly Australian and New Zealand troops (this would become ANZAC cove) Rapid progress towards the high ground objectives was essential before the reinforcements of the other two portions of the Turkish army could be brought to bear but, not for the last time, Hamilton underestimated the Turks and the difficulty of the country he had to cross. He did order diversionary moves by the French on Kum Kale and the Royal Naval Division on Bulair in order to tie up the defenders there. 

The invasion began at dawn on 25th April, but it was not until the evening that von Sandars was convinced that this was the main landing, or until the 26th before he dispatched his reinforcements toward Cape Helles.

Sedd-el-Bahr and V beach
seen from SS River Clyde 25/4
As for the landings, V beach was intended as the most important, with the heights of Sedd el Bahr and its fort the immediate target. Two thousand men of the Dublin Fusiliers and the Hampshires were packed into the hold of the River Clyde, and old steamer converted as a landing craft, with exit points cut out of her sides. The craft grounded well short of the shore and the men had to wade ashore in deep water. As they emerged they were hit by murderous fire from well concealed Turkish defenders. The landing failed; there were heavy losses, and attempts were halted that evening.  The Lancashire fusiliers had it just as bad on W beach, but one of their landing craft eluded the Turkish fire and was able to land troops, who skirted around the defensive position and overcame the defenders. This enabled a foothold to be secured. At X beach, the Royal Fusiliers were successful in landing and moving up the cliffs, therby making contact with the W beach foothold. The beaches at either end of the loop – S and Y – were hardly defended and the landing troops were able to establish beach-heads.
By the end of 25th, some 9,000 men had been landed on the 5 beaches of Cape Helles, of whom 3,000 were dead or wounded. They were fragmented, holding on precariously, and had been able to make little ground towards their ambitious objectives.

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