Author Topic: 'Counter Operations' at Krithia Nullah - by C Company, 1/9th Manchesters Part 1  (Read 75 times)

Offline Krithia Spur

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As requested by Mack see below my  [slightly edited] article describing the action in which my great uncle, Pte. 1210 John [Jack] Crane was killed, first published in the Gallipolian, in 2018 [Winter No. 148].

    ‘COUNTER OPERATIONS’ at Krithia Nullah

    Pte. 1210 John Arthur Crane killed in action on the 7 June 1915.

This is an account of a small action that took place in aftermath of the Third Battle of Krithia on the evening of the 7 June 1915. It was carried out by 100 men of ‘C’ Company 1/9th Manchester Regt. [a Territorial unit raised in Ashton under Lyne] against Turkish held trenches in an area between the Vineyard and the bifurcation of Krithia Nullah.

The narrative details my search for an answer to what happened to my great uncle on 7 June 1915, it is also a perfect example of the great assistance ‘Custom Mapping’ can give to students of the campaign. By overlaying trench maps onto Google Earth Satellite imagery, and loading the resultant ‘Custom Map’ onto a hand held GPS device it is possible to locate on the ground any named or numbered trench and much of the detail in the account that follows has been informed by this process.

More than 50 years ago, I remember my grandmother telling the story of my grandfather’s brother John Crane, know to the family as “our Jack”.  She told me Jack had volunteered with his battalion, at the outbreak of war and after 7 months of training in Egypt had landed at “the Dardanelles”, where he was KIA. She also recounted that when my grandfather Pte. William Crane arrived on the peninsula with the first draft of reinforcements on 23 July, he went to look for Jack and was told; “He went over the top and hasn’t been seen since”.

This remained all I knew of Jack and his unit until the early 1980’s when I began a search for more information about the 9th Manchester’s and clues to what had happened to him.
The battalion has no written history and the only source of information I could find at the time was a copy of the 9th Manchesters war diary held at the Central Reference Library in Manchester [which I later found to be an incomplete copy]. The diary’s entry for the 7 June gave little data other than the casualties reported on the day, which proved as is often the case in war diaries, to be underestimated:

‘C’ Company charges Turkish trenches. Relinquished after general attack at 7 pm. Capt. F. HAMER, 2nd Lt. A.E. STRINGER killed; 13 other ranks reported missing. 3 killed and 25 wounded.

My grandmother had mentioned Jack had a grave but the family had no idea where he was buried, so in 1998 [pre-internet] I wrote to the CWGC and received a reply confirming that Jack was buried on the peninsula, and had a marked grave in the Redoubt Cemetery. I resolved that one day I would travel to the peninsula and visit Jack’s grave,1 but at the time my business required my full focus and I had to put my research to one side.

Some years later I picked up the threads, I knew the 9th Manchesters belonged to the East Lancashire Division [later designated as the 42nd Division] and I found short account of the action in the division’s history which although concise in detail, gave some key information and a wider picture started to emerge:

   "On June 7th counter-operations were undertaken after dark with the object of straightening the line from the Vineyard towards the nullah. The attack was divided into three parts, the right being entrusted to 100 men of the 9th Manchesters, and 20 men of the 1st Field Company; the centre and left each to a company of the Chatham Battalion. The 9th Manchesters succeeded, but the left and centre failed to their objective."

My research was accelerated by the discovery of Lynn Corbett’s splendid website; ‘The Ashton Pals’, where Lynn has posted a huge number of transcribed contemporary newspaper articles about the 9th Manchesters, and these include eye witness accounts of the action on the 7 June.

Further progress came with the digitisation of the Gallipoli Campaign war diaries which allowed me access to substantial corroborative information within the Staff diaries and the diaries of other battalions, in particular the Chatham Battalion’s war diary which contains a very detailed entry for the 7 June.
A trench map in the Royal Naval Diary [RND]diary and references within other war diaries allowed me to identify the actual Turkish trenches that the 100 men of ‘C’ Company had been tasked to capture, and I was able to locate the exact positions of these trenches on the ground by overlaying this trench map onto Google Earth and loading the ‘custom map’ onto my handheld GPS device.
This confluence of information, not only enabled me to piece together a very detailed narrative but also allowed me to stand on the actual spot where the action took place. There I discovered the remains of one of the trenches [G.10] taken by 9th Manchesters on the 7 June.

The 9th Manchesters landed with the East Lancs [126th] Infantry Brigade at ‘V’ Beach on the 9 May and on the following day became the first of its battalions to go into the line when it was attached temporarily to the 2nd Naval Brigade. It spent the next two weeks in rotation between the firing-line, support line and reserve line trenches in the East Lancs [42nd] Division’s sector which at the time ran in a line from the Achi Baba Nullah on the right, to a point around 200 yards east of Fir Tree Wood on the left.

On the 25 May the newly promoted Lieut. Gen. Hunter Weston, GOC VIII Army Corps., [who had doubts about the soldiering abilities of the Territorial’s] gave an order for the newly redesignated 126th Brigade to be attached to units of the 29th Division; “in order that the men and officers might learn their work”.2 However, a few days after joining the regulars it was decided that the 9th Manchesters were to hold the Redoubt Line in the coming battle. The Redoubt Line as its name suggests was strengthened by a line of strong points or redoubts and was key to the defence of the division’s sector. On the 1 June the battalion re-joined the 42nd Division and on the evening of the 3 June moved into the Redoubt Line where it remained in Divisional Reserve until the morning of the 7 June.

The entire Allied line advanced at 12:00 on the 4 June and the 127th Brigade, in front of the 9th Manchesters, quickly achieved all its objectives. However, by 1.30 pm the Royal Naval Division on the division’s right had been forced to retire and was back in its own lines leaving 42nd Division’s right flank in the air. At 6.30 pm General Hunter-Weston issued orders to the 127th Brigade to withdraw to its First Objective Line and consolidate for the night. Shortly afterwards the 9th Manchesters were called upon to provide reinforcements and working parties to construct redoubts in the newly captured firing line and these parties remained in and around the firing-line during the chaotic days that followed.

After 3 days of almost continuous fighting which had been particularly severe during the Turkish counter-attacks on the 6 June, there was a short respite in the fighting. Battalion roll calls were held on the evening of the 6 June. These revealed that casualties had reduced the 42nd Division to less than half its nominal strength,3 but despite its weakened state further offensive action was called for by VIII Corps H.Q., specifically in the area around the bifurcation of Krithia Nullah.

At day break on the 7 June the men of the 9th Manchesters were still holding the Redoubt Line, waiting to move up to relieve the troops in the firing-line but fire from a Turkish machine-gun temporarily prevented any reliefs from being carried out. 4 Later that morning, the machine-gun fell silent and the battalion was ordered to reinforce the 5th Lancashire Fusiliers, then holding a section of the firing-line between the Krithia Nullah and the Vineyard. This was a hotly contested part of the line and within half an hour of getting into position ‘C’ Company had one man killed and another,5 Pte. Richard Stott, wounded in the head.

Around this time Chaplain Kenneth Best passed through the trenches and firing-line occupied by the 9th Manchesters and later recorded the conditions in his diary: 6   
   ‘Went up Clapham Junction and Piccadilly Gully to see 9th Manchesters. Officers are scum of earth. Borrowed plumes, swelled heads – not sure of their position and by adopting airs make themselves absurd. It was disappointing. A comfortable communication trench usually 7ft both sides. Found there 5th & 9th Manchesters and 5th & 8th Fusiliers nearly dead with weariness. Am in adjacent trench to Turks, hence sniping frequent and also bombs. Just sandbags between. Many little attacks and reverses going on. Jumpy work. Turks crawl up and shoot or drop bombs. Only a few yards separate Turkish trenches and our own.’ 7

The firing-line the 9th Manchesters occupied faced the Turkish held trenches of G.10 and G.11.,8 and this section of the line had been bitterly contested by both sides from the night of the 4 June onwards. Before the advance on the 4 June, G.11 was a 500-yard section of the main Turkish firing-line and was part of the 127th Brigade’s first objective. Its entire length had been captured by the 6th and 8th Manchesters in the first minutes of the battle, but in the early hours of 6 June the Turks managed to drive out the 5th Lancashire Fusiliers from all of G.10 and a 350-yard section of G.11. This trench ran from the west Krithia Nullah, across the ‘bifurcation’, over the east Krithia Nullah and then diagonally for a further 200 yards, stopping just short of the British firing-line. The other trench, shown as G.10 on an RND sketch map ran parallel to G.11 and was closer to the British line. 9

Throughout the 6 June, the 5th and 7th Lancs Fusiliers made repeated attempts to regain the lost section but without success, and with considerable loss. For the officers and men holding the ground around G.10 and G.11, faced by determined Turkish defence and fully aware of the difficulties posed by the terrain, further attacks must have seemed futile. However, the Corps, divisional and brigade Staffs, away from the front and less well informed, continued to plan further small-scale offensive actions.  At 7 am on the 7 June, Brigadier General H.C. Frith, GOC the 125th Brigade, regardless of previous failed attacks on G.10 and G.11., “ordered the battalion commanders to make a reconnaissance with a view to making an attack that evening”.10