Author Topic: ‘COUNTER OPERATIONS’ at Krithia Nullah Part 2  (Read 831 times)

Offline Krithia Spur

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‘COUNTER OPERATIONS’ at Krithia Nullah Part 2
« on: October 05, 2021, 07:03:08 AM »
The operation was to be carried out by a mixed force of around 820 men comprising of; 200 men of ‘C’ Company, 9th Manchesters [half as the assaulting party and half to form the consolidation party] with 20 men of the 1st Field Company R.E. attached, 200 men of ‘D’ Company, Chatham Battalion, and 200 men of ‘C’ Company, Chatham Battalion. In addition, “200 men of the Manchester Regiment”, either from the 9th Manchesters or possibly from one of the Lancashire Fusilier battalions, were allotted to consolidate trenches gained by the Chatham’s. 11
The plan required ‘C’ Company, Chatham Battalion, to capture a Turkish trench H.11A which ran parallel to, and immediately to the left of the west Krithia Nullah and for ‘D’ Company, Chatham Battalion, to clear both the east and west branches of the Krithia Nullah and to take the trenches between them up to and including the continuation of G.11.

100 men of ‘C’ Company, 9th Manchesters, commanded by Captain Frank Hamer, were to advance across ground from a point on the right of the east Krithia Nullah, up to a point about 70 yards to the west of the ‘Vineyard’ and to capture both the right-hand section of G.11, and also the shorter G.10 trench. The other half of ‘C’ Company were to support the attack from the firing-line and be ready to go forward to consolidate the captured trenches.

For all of those taking part in the attack, this was their first experience of close quarter fighting and most had yet to see a live Turk, let alone cross bayonets with one.
The assaulting force was made up of 10 and 12 platoons, with 10 platoon on the left, attacking the shorter G.10 trench and 12 platoon on the right, attacking the G.11 trench. The left-hand party was commanded by Capt. Okell, with 2nd Lieutenant ‘Ned’ Stringer, [10 platoon’s commander] as his second in command and the right-hand party was commanded by Captain Frank Hamer with 2nd Lieutenant John Mayall Wade [12 platoon’s commander] as his second in command.

Both Captains had served with the battalion before the war. Capt. Frank Hamer was ‘C’ Company’s 35-year-old O.C., and in civilian life a chartered accountant and Liberal member of the Ashton Council. He had been commissioned into the 3rd Volunteer battalion eleven years earlier [it became the 9th Manchesters in 1908] and had been promoted to Captain in December of 1911. He was held in high regard by his men for his kindness and qualities of leadership. Corporal Thomas Valentine, a stretcher bearer attached to ‘C’ Company spoke warmly of Capt. Hamer, and of the respect felt by the men to their officers who were sharing the same privations:
“Our officers roughed it with us, and set a fine example. If it rained, they were in it with us, and cheered us up. Often Lieut. Stringer, poor chap, has cooked his meal at my fire, whilst Captain Hamer was a real trump. He looked after us well. I shall never forget one little act of kindness, which, although it might appear trivial, he showed to me. One wet night it had poured in the trenches, and we were up to the waist in mud-broth. When we came back to the dug-outs, Captain Hamer was there, and I happened to be the first one back. Captain Hamer looked very ill, and having known me for a long time he talked to me quite chummily. He had charge of the issue of rum for the Company, and gave me mine at once, in order to prevent me from catching cold, instead of waiting an hour or so until the rest of the Company came in. That was a typical act, which endeared him to us all………. the boys appreciated the spirit shown by Captain Hamer. Lieut. Ned Stringer was also immensely popular, and got on well with the boys.”
Captain George Harold Okell, a 37-year-old solicitor was commissioned into the 9th Manchesters as 2nd Lieutenant on 17 June 1910. By 1914 he had been promoted to Captain and was in command of ‘E’ Company when the battalion arrived in Egypt. A short time later, the battalion reformed into double companies, after which he was appointed as second in command of ‘C’ Company.
The junior officers were more recent recruits. 2nd Lieutenant John ‘Jack’ Wade had been an officer for less than 12 months, having been commissioned shortly after the outbreak of war on 2 September 1914. He was the son of Lieut. Colonel D.R. Wade, the battalion’s Commanding Officer, who was by this time in Alexandria recovering from wounds received on the 22nd May. Although junior in rank and experience, the 20-year-old Wade would show himself to be a natural and courageous leader. 2nd Lieutenant Albert Edward ‘Ned’ Stringer was a graduate of Victoria University Manchester, and at 37 years old was unusually mature for a subaltern. In civilian life a deputy head teacher at the Ashton Municipal Secondary School he was a popular teacher, and well–liked by his men for his cheerful sympathetic manner. Ned Stringer enlisted on the same day as Jack Wade, and was shortly afterwards promoted to 2nd Lieutenant. He like many others welcomed the call to arms as an opportunity for great adventure, and his excitement was described in an article in the local paper: 
“He was full of enthusiasm for his new calling after he had joined the Ashton Territorials, and whilst at Bury, prior to the battalion’s departure for Egypt, he was "beside himself with joy at setting out on a great adventure".12   

The land directly in front of ‘C’ Companies firing-line, and the ground the assaulting force had to cross sloped gradually from right to left, increasing in steepness as it neared the Nullah. There it dropped fifteen to twenty feet into the stream bed. The first 30 yards on the left, and 50 yards on the right is quite level, thereafter it suddenly inclines obliquely down towards the nullah. In this fold of dead ground, out of sight to the assaulting force, lay the Turkish-held sections of G.10 and G.11. Both G.10 and G.11 ran diagonally from right to left at a 45-degree angle from the Manchester’s firing-line, with the Turkish barricades set around 50 yards from them. This meant the men on the left of each party would have to cover almost twice the distance of their comrades on the right, across a bare terrain covered by Turkish machine-guns and rifles positioned on the higher ground between the nullahs and in the ‘Vineyard’ on the right. The only way to take their objectives was to cover the distance in one urgent dash.

It’s impossible to know what notice the men detailed for the attack were given or how well they were briefed. Given the conditions and challenge of communicating with a body of men dispersed in a jumble of trenches, it is fair to assume instructions and ‘orders’ were rudimentary.
The 7th June had been another very hot day, vast clouds of corpse flies and the terrible smell of death hung over the battlefield. By the early evening ‘C’ Companies’ assault force was assembled in the narrow and tightly packed firing-line. Turkish machine-gun and rifle fire raked the parapet and the enemy’s shells burst all around. The men must have been exhausted by the physical and psychological strain of three days of battle and from the unremitting fatigues of the last seven days. Water was as always scarce, limited to one pint per man per day, and the men’s constant thirst must have increased their discomfort as they waited for the order to advance.

 John Masefield’s words in his 1916 book ‘Gallipoli’, perfectly describe the ordeal caused by lack of water, experienced by so many on the peninsula:
   “Thirst, which most of us know solely as a pleasant zest to drinking, soon becomes a hardship, then in an hour, an obsession, and by high noon a madness, to those who toil in the sun with nothing to drink”.
Zero hour had been scheduled to “give time to consolidate the trenches gained before dark,” 13 but there is conjecture as to the precise time of the attack. Both the 9th Manchester’s and the Chatham’s war diaries give the time of the attack as 7 pm, however the VIII Army Corps and 42nd Division war diaries both concur with an account by Captain Okell, who gives the time as 7.30 pm.

There is also some dispute regarding the level of artillery support provided, the VIII Army Corps diary asserts the attack was “well supported by artillery fire,” 14 but this is contradicted by the Chatham Battalion diary which maintains that when it’s “right flanking Company” [‘D’] and the “Manchester details” moved forward, it was “covered by infantry and machine gun fire.” but added that “There was no artillery preparation”. However, an account by Private Massey, a member of ‘C’ Company, 9th Manchesters, seems to confirm there was some artillery support, albeit stopping half an hour before the attack:
   ‘I may say that we are in the trenches, and we have been here five days. Yesterday ‘C’ Company made a charge, and took a trench in grand style. The first day on which we came in the trenches there was a big bombardment for almost an hour, then about half an hour's rifle fire. Our Company then made a charge, and our men took two trenches. When our lot had done, the trenches were piled up with dead, the greater part of them being the enemy. By Jove, there was a din, shells flying all over the place, and when they dropped; you could see the earth flying into the air’ 15
Whether the attack started at 7 pm or 7:30 pm, with or without artillery support, at Captain Okell’s signal the 100 men of ‘C’ Company climbed over the parapet and in Captain Okell’s words, “With a mighty cheer our boys advanced”.

They rushed towards the Turkish trenches, through a heavy rifle and machine-gun fire coming from Turkish positions on both flanks. The other half of ‘C’ Company, detailed to support the attack, lay out on top of the parapets, pouring rapid firing into the Turkish positions. Contemporary accounts describe the men leaving the trenches in fine order and with great determination, some were killed or fell down wounded. Captain Hamer 16 was one of those caught in the “cross fire” and was killed before he reached his objective, but the other three officers and a large proportion of the attacking force pressed on towards the two trenches. Since, the Turkish held sections of the G.10 and G.11 trenches lay in dead ground the 9th Manchesters firing-line was out of sight of the Turks manning them. As the men of ‘C’ Company crested the rise above them, the Turks would have a few crucial seconds to react before the Ashton men were on top of them. For the attackers, exposed to the fire from machine-guns and hundreds of Turkish rifles from both flanks, it was imperative to get into the enemy trenches as soon as possible and as the ‘C’ Company men reached their objectives, they leapt into both trenches.   
John Masefield describes the terrible moment when an assaulting force reaches a trench filled with the enemy;

“……and suddenly come upon a deep and narrow Turk trench full of men. This is the first sight of the enemy. They leap down into the trench, and fight hand to hand, kill and be killed, in the long grave already dug.”   

The Ashton men quickly overwhelmed the defenders, and drove those who were able to flee, down the trenches towards the nullah, where the ends of both opened out into its steep banks, allowing some Turks a way of escape.   
The left-hand party, under Captain Okell and 2nd Lieutenant Stringer took G.10, but almost immediately came under heavy enfilade fire. They found to their cost that the trench they occupied inclined towards Turkish positions on higher ground between the Nullahs, giving the enemy unimpeded fields of fire right into G10.

The right-hand party now under 2nd Lieutenant Wade’s control, also took its objective and set about consolidating it, turning the parapet and cutting a new fire step.               
Captain Okell later described the attack in a letter to Captain Ralph Lees back in Ashton:
   ‘It is my painful duty to inform you that NED (Lieutenant STRINGER) was killed in action on the evening of the 7th inst. On that day our Company was ordered to charge the enemy and clear them out of the trenches in front of the firing line. On the left were other troops not belonging to our battalion, who had a similar task to perform. Captain F. HAMER and Lieutenant WADE were to charge one trench, and NED and I the other trench. I was posted a little to the left to give the signal for the advance. I gave it shortly after 7.30, and with a mighty cheer our boys advanced. Immediately the enemy opened a terrific rifle and maxim fire, but NED and I succeeded in reaching the trench.’

In the midst of the action, men selflessly ignoring any danger to themselves, went to the aid of their injured comrades. Lance Corporal Albert Platt was one of those who went to bring in the wounded:

    ‘In the afternoon of the same day, ‘C’ Company made a bayonet charge on the Turks. We were a little over 100 strong when we went out, but about 45 got either killed or wounded. When we got into the Turkish trench Tom Finnity said to me "Joe Bertenshaw is over there, Albert, are you going for him?" I replied, "Sure!" and I climbed back over the parapet. Tommy Finnity came with me and we found Joe lying on the ground. I said, "Is that you Joe?" and he replied, "Yes... is it Albert?'' I replied in the affirmative, and Joe says, "Get me in, will you?" I said "That's what we've come for." We dragged him to the parapet and I shouted to some of the men to catch him. Then we rolled him over. Then we went back for another wounded lad called Wilson, of Ashton, and got him in, and we also fetched in Albert Wrigley. Just as we were getting him to the parapet the Turks opened rapid fire, and we had to lie down until their fire ceased, and they resumed independent fire again. Then Finnity and I dragged Wrigley to the parapet and rolled him over, and the men caught him. In and between these I was fetching ammunition, etc., and passing it into the trench. I was in the fire of the Turks. Just as we got to the parapet after taking Wrigley, Finnity was shot in the leg.’ 17
Within minutes ‘C’ company had succeeded in its task and for the moment held G.10 and G.11, waiting for the Chatham men to take their objectives and come up in line.

Leaving the firing-line immediately to the left of Ashton men, were the men of ‘D’ Company, Chatham Battalion. They had been given the difficult task of clearing both forks of the nullah, with one platoon allotted to each one, and the remaining two platoons to take the trenches in between the East and West Nullahs, including the continuation of G.11. Initially this force was able to get forward and the two platoons in the centre under Lieutenant Roe made good progress, but the platoon tasked to clear the right fork came under heavy machine gun-and rifle fire from positions on the higher ground of the ‘Vineyard’ causing severe losses and holding up ‘D’ Companies advance. Reinforcements were called for and one platoon from ‘A’ Company, Chatham Battalion was sent forward but fire from the ‘Vineyard’ made it impossible to advance and about 9 pm the whole of ‘D’ Company retired back to the junction of the nullahs.
Over on the far left, ‘C’ Company, Chatham Battalion, was tasked to take trench H.11a on the left bank of West Krithia Nullah. Originally a communication trench running between the western end of G.11 and the eastern end of H.11, it had been improvised into a firing-line by the Turks. The trenches leading to the Chatham’s assembly area were a heavily congested maze and many men lost their way or were delayed. To add to the confusion the O.C. of the local unit could only accommodate the Chatham men in small groups spread over a wide extent.18 Consequently the O.C. of ‘C’ Company was unable to locate a large proportion of his men, rendering it impossible to assemble a strong enough force to take the objective and the attack at this point proved a complete failure.
For the 9th Manchesters, holding on to G.10 & G.11 it was crucial that the attacks on their left succeeded. If the trenches between the nullahs remained uncaptured, their left-flank would be completely exposed to close-range enfilade fire. To remain in position at first light whilst the Turks still occupied H.11A and the trenches between the nullahs, would be suicidal.   
General Frith, was aware of the 9th Manchesters’ exposure and orders were given for the Chatham Battalion to renew the attack, but it was clear that without artillery support there was little chance of success. As a consequence, General Frith postponed the attack until such support could be organised.

While the men holding the captured trenches waited for the Chatham’s to launch their attack, the 8th Lancashire Fusiliers sent forward a supply of bombs and ammunition, 19 but for the men in G.10, under heavy rifle and machine-gun fire from Turkish trenches and a redoubt, just tens of yards away across the East Krithia Nullah, it became impossible to retain the trench. Captain Okell made the decision to evacuate and ordered what remained of his party to retire, but such was the ferocity of the Turkish fire that few men were able to get back to the firing-line alive. Lieutenant Stringer was killed and most of the left-hand assault party were either killed or wounded, some within the trench but most as they retired. Only Captain Okell, and three other men made it to the safety of the firing-line. In Captain Okell’s own words:

   ‘Unfortunately, the enemy were able to open an enfilading fire, which made the trench absolutely untenable. We had to retire, but only about four of us succeeded in doing so safely.’ 20   
In the G.11 trench, Lieutenant Wade and his party held on tenaciously.  In taking the trench Wade had acted with great gallantry, receiving a bayonet wound to his wrist during the struggle. After going back to have his wound dressed, he re-joined his men in G.11, and undeterred, Wade and his men held on. Wades actions were later recalled by Lance Corporal Pickford in an interview with the Ashton Reporter:
‘Corporal Pickford cherishes a strong admiration for Lieutenant. Jack Wade, who was one of the gamest officers in the battalion. He remembered Lieut. Wade, when wounded in the arm with a bayonet, rushing back to have it bound up, and tearing off back again to fight’.