Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Tulloch & Reid, or Mason & Reid?

The northern flank of Anzac

As I have said before in another post, trying to put the different story-pieces of the jigsaw together is a dinkum challenge. For this reason some events I have included in my book are contrary to the line of Mr Charles Bean’s Official History. One being the story of Sergeant Mason (11 Battalion) who says he accompanied Lieutenant M. Reid (11Bn) on the morning of the Landing. Mason told his story to Chas Bean, but Bean chose not to include it in his book. I’m not sure why, because it seems to me that Mason is the only one who has left an account of the events near the Shepherd’s Hut on the morning of the Landing.

I think the reason Bean didn’t include SGT Mason’s account is that it conflicted with the account of Captain Tulloch (11Bn) who includes Reid in his story of events. Like me, David Cameron (author of “25 April 1915”), is unsure why Bean ignored Mason’s account, even though Cameron’s research revealed that Mason was regarded as a fellow with a “dependable, no nonsense” character. Cameron has loosely included Mason’s account, and Tulloch’s story both of which include reference to LT Reid being with them at different areas of the battlefield. As far as I can ascertain, there were not two LT M. Reid’s in the 11th Battalion on that day.

I have chosen to go along with Mason’s account, only juggling timings to try to get them to fit logically with Tulloch's story and other events. Bean, on the other hand tells only of Captain Tulloch’s adventure up the range, and almost totally ignores Mason’s fascinating story.

Possibly the trouble stems from confusing statements, some of which need careful study, clarification or expansion before being taken literally. When you read the statements written in Bean’s notebooks, you find that the stories are often all over the shop. One second someone will be talking about one area and then they’ll mention something they heard happened somewhere else. This is done usually without clarification and an unwary reader may come to the wrong conclusion. An example of this is revealed in Mason’s account when Bean records - in the morning his group went up onto Russell’s Top, and then mentions “Tulloch was wounded there & Lt Butler (12 Bn)”. The account then goes on to describe how Mason then went down to the Shepherd’s Hut. The casual reader may conclude from this that Tulloch and Butler were wounded before Mason and his party went down the slope, but they were not wounded until much later in the afternoon. According to Mason’s own account, he was not near these two officers for most of the day, so he probably heard the story of their wounding later, and was passing it on to Bean second or third hand.

In Captain Tulloch’s account, as told by Bean, Reid only plays a minor part. Whereas in SGT Mason’s story, Reid has a leading role in the events down at the Shepherd’s Hut.

The account of Reid’s fate in relation to Tulloch’s movements appears to be quite brief (but it is similar to Mason’s version); whereas Mason gives a much more detailed account, in comparison including things like "he said" and "we asked".

In the broad scheme of things, whether LT Reid was killed on Big 700 (Battleship Hill), or down near Outpost No1 is irrelevant to the whole story. But by telling Mason’s version I am able to tell the only available story of what happened on the northern flank; thus compelling me to tell Tulloch’s complete adventure up on Big 700, without mention of LT Reid.

So for these reason’s I’ve chosen to include LT Reid in Mason’s account, and fit it together with other events going on at the same time, as best as I can.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The AE2

AE1 setting out on its last patrol from Rabaul, 14 Sep 1914.

 The Australian Navy was represented at Gallipoli by the submarine AE2. One of two submarines which had been acquired from England before the War started. Its sister sub, the AE1, went missing during the earlier operations in the south-west Pacific in 1914. The AE2 was to have a major contribution to the building of the Anzac Legend.

The Dardenelles today
The AE2 began early in the morning of the 25th of April 1915, by sailing to the mouth of the Dardenelles, where it waited for the moon to set before beginning its mission - to pass through the Narrows into the Sea of Marmara, where it was to unsettle the Ottoman naval operations within.

Well, as Mr Malcolm Fraser (our old Prime Minister) is famous for saying “Life isn’t meant to be easy”. The odds against the AE2 even getting through the minefield were very much against it. With no radar, the Australian and British crew had to negotiate it by using the good old Braille method. Yes, that's right, by feel. The old subs weren’t equipped with radar in those days because the technology was still being developed.

"That's our first one sunk."
After somehow slipping through, they managed to sink an Ottoman gunboat. This was to prove to be a major influencing factor in the Allied commander, Sir Ian Hamilton, continuing the battle when the question of the operation's future was raised. Maybe Sir Ian saw it as a good omen or something. Of course there were other factors, but that’s how the event is told.

In a tight spot

Driven by their devotion to duty, the crew of the AE2 went on to have many hair raising adventures during its time in the Dardenelles on that momentous Sunday, before meeting its untimely fate a few days later. 

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Regarding Turkish Machine Guns at the Landing

In his book “The Landing At Anzac - 1915”, Brigadier Chris Roberts (Retired) brings into question the likelihood of machine guns opposing the Anzacs at the time of the Landing. His research included access to Turkish records which have become available in recent years. I’m not in a position to review his research material, but weighing up the pro’s and cons of the information available to me and remaining open minded, I think that BRIG Roberts’ does provide a plausible argument. But that doesn’t mean he is correct, though.
On the other side of the coin, the Turkish 2/27 Battalion was garrisoning the area north and south of Gaba Tepe at the time. Major Ismet, C.O. of the 2/27th Bn, is quoted (on page 9 of “25 April 1915” by David Cameron), stating tactical orders from General Liman Von Sanders to place “half a machine company (two guns) …. on the ridge behind Ari Burnu” and “in such a way as to bring the northern shore of Ariburnu and Kaba Tepe under direct fire”. If anyone was in a position to know what the defences consisted of at the time, Major Ismet was.

Part of BRIG Roberts’ argument is - the Turks only had a scattering of troops acting as warning posts along the coast at the time. They did not expect the Allies to land at Ari Burnu. Machine guns were a vital weapon for defence and a scarce commodity in the Ottoman Army, so why would they locate them at a spot where they didn’t expect the Allies to land? It makes sense that they would be centrally located back from the beach with the main reserve, awaiting the order to move to a threatened stretch of coast when the attack began.
If you wish to read BRIG Roberts’ essay (it's a good read) a version is available here 

The Turkish 2/27 Battalion had two and a half hours forewarning of the Anzac landing in the early hours of 25 April 1915. If half a MG company was supporting them, as reported by Major Ismet, I think they could have brought them into position within that time.

So which way do I lean in my book?

I originally included machine guns in the initial Ottoman defence at Ari Burnu, as detailed by Mr C.E.W. Bean in his book (The Story of Anzac, Official History Vol1). But after I read BRIG Roberts’ book, I decided to bend to the side of caution and remove such references.

Now you see it, now you don't.
The reason I have opted out of the argument is that I do not want to perpetuate erroneous details, one way or the other, if I can help it. I would like my book to be as readably accurate in 100 years, as it is on the date of publication. As I studied and wrote my book, I developed my own theories about why particular events happened, but I resisted the temptation to impose them on the story. Maybe a few have crept in, but this wasn’t my intention. My main aim was to present the Legend as it happened as far as we know, without distorting it any more then it already is. It’s an amazing story and should be available to everybody for their interpretation. By presenting the reported “facts” I have left it open to the reader to make their own decisions about why the attack failed, what decisions were crucial, etc. 

The omission of machine guns in the initial Ottoman defence does not change the story as told from my perspective. The Anzacs were opposed by heavy fire; whether it is machine gun or rifle fire is irrespective.  

Understandably human nature may have been the cause for errors made by eye witnesses, but we can’t rely solely on official documentation either, for the same reason. Remember, we “lost” 1370 votes in our most recent Federal election; so it’s possible that some relevant documents may have been misplaced in the intervening 98 years since the Landing took place. The trouble for modern historians is that they can only be guided by written accounts; whether they are in the form of official documentation, or personal diaries, letters, etc. What needs to be remembered is that these sources are not totally reliable.

As an example, an eyewitness records (page 33 of “25 April 1915” by David Cameron) that he “saw” a Turkish machine gun get set up and start firing before being knocked backwards by fire from a naval pinnace. How does an historian, relying purely on official documents, account for such statements? Can all such statements be entirely discounted as “fabrications”?

In his preface to the Official History Bean remarks that Turkish official records “are most unreliable” and even some British records are inaccurate. This warning is not heeded by many historians who appear to be only too ready to discard original versions of events, in favour of “new theories”. This is not intended to be a slight on BRIG Roberts’ essay (which I consider very valid, and his book is excellent), but rather an asterisk on the danger historian’s face when relying on “official documentation” only.

Mr Bean has attempted to tell it as best he could, without obvious bias or discretion. He relied on his personal experience (as he was there on the day of the landing and afterwards), documentation, interviews within days of the landing and correspondence with eye witnesses. No one was in a better position then he to write the Official History. This coupled with his desire to preserve an accurate record of Australians in the Great War resulted in a detailed and, as much as is possible, reliable account.

The further we get from the event the more questions seem to arise. Some have credence, some are pure red herrings. Whatever the facts were, they are continually being challenged and questioned. The truth will never be set in concrete and, it seems to me, the further we get from the event the more blurry the view becomes.

For further reading, I highly recommend all three of the books I’ve mentioned in this blog post; plus of course “The Anzac Legend” when it is published.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Problems for the Covering Force

As outlined in the comic “Gallipoli: The Landing” (Z Beach True Comics) by Hugh Dolan and Mal Gardiner, ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) was ordered to land between Gaba Tepe and the Fisherman’s Hut and capture the heights of Hill 971. General Birdwood, the Anzac commander, was allowed to make his own plans, so he decided to land his Corps on the beach north of Gaba Tepe and south of Ari Burnu.

The first troops to land (the 3rd Australian Brigade) were called the “Covering Force”, and were to hit the beach just south of Anzac Cove (Brighton Beach). They had only to cross a low plateau and a number of low spurs to reach their objective – the Third Ridge. Only one and a half to 2 kilometres distant, and possibly could be achieved in less then an hour.

The low hills behind the planned landing place.

Turkish defence was quite light, and as it turned out, whenever encountered it was easily swept aside by the Anzac’s superior numbers. The 2nd Brigade would secure Hill 971 afterwards.

But as most of us know, the Covering Force landed about 1600 metres further north then expected. The reasons for this have been speculated ever since. The tide? A sudden change of plans? Human error? Enemy interference? Or even - the original intention was to land where they did, but the plan was kept secret from everybody, except Birdwood and the admiral in charge? A book, by David Winter “25 April 1915”, was written and explores all these possibilities. 

There was an enquiry into the Campaign in 1917, where Gen Birdwood and others gave evidence at a court hearing, and Birdwood stated that they basically landed where they were intended to. This is true; because most of the 1st Australian Division and the NZ&A Div (New Zealand and Australian Division) were earmarked to land in, or near Anzac Cove. Also, if things got too hot from the Ottoman defensive fire at Gaba Tepe, the Navy was to land the remaining troops north of Anzac Cove. But for the Covering Force the shift of a mile northwards made it very difficult for it to achieve its goals.
The Covering Forces planned move inland, with the 2nd Brigade arriving offshore close behind them.
Instead of a few low spurs to cross, the Covering Force had to negotiate the steep cliffs of Sari Bair and the ones above Anzac Cove. Then negotiate the deep winding valleys behind and their associated cliffs.

It took approximately two and a half hours for only a small number of the Covering Force (roughly 160 men in three scattered groups) to finally reach the Third Ridge, or parts of it. These Australians were soon confronted by the leading Ottoman reserve troops (these were the tip of a force of 2000 men).
LT Plant (9 Bn) and his platoon, on the Third ridge, see the approaching Ottoman troops.
The rest of the Covering Force, over 3500 men, were scattered from Baby 700, along the Second Ridge to the 400 plateau.

Although the troops of the Covering Force went as fast as they could, they couldn’t reach their goal quick enough.