The aftermath of the Turkish attack on the 3rd Light Horse Brigade positions at Russell’s Top, Gallipoli, 29th -30th June 1915.
The Turkish assault on the 3rd LH Brigade positions on Russell’s Top, 29th – 30th June would be the last major attack undertaken by the Turkish forces at ANZAC, or as known to the Turks, ‘Ariburnu’. Orders for the assault were emanating from Turkish general headquarters, although Australian war historian C. E. W. Bean states the suggestion for the attack came from Mustafa Kemal Bey, commander of the 19th Division. The reported presence of Enver Pasha, the Minister for War and Essad Pasha, Commander 7th Division, indicate that the attack was yet another attempt to drive the ANZAC forces off the heights of Russell’s Top and Walker’s Ridge back down to the sea, as had been seriously attempted on two other prior occasions, the 27th April, and with the most notable being the great general advance of the 19th May 1915.
If the intended attack were to be successful, it would render the whole of Monash and Shrapnel Valley’s open to observation and enfilade fire, all of the forward posts of the Second Ridge; Pope’s Hill, Quinn’s, Courtney’s and Steele’s would then be un-defendable, the entire North beach exposed to direct Turkish fire, and ultimately, the whole of the ANZAC sector rendered untenable. Bean sums this up in the official history: ‘…the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps would be forced to withdraw, if it could, from the Peninsula, and would probably be crushed in making the attempt.’
The task of carrying out the Turkish attack fell to the recently arrived 18th Infantry Regiment of the 6th Division under the command of Kaymakam (Lieutenant-Colonel) Abulkadir Bey. The regiment was attached to the 19th Division and moved into the trenches on Baby 700 and the Chessboard, above the Nek and Russell’s Top, with about 1200 men. The Regiment’s 2nd Battalion, numbering approximately 600 men, would make the initial assault, with the 3rd Battalion, of similar strength, forming the second line of advance.
After the first massed attack at 12.15 a.m., which appeared to come in three waves, had been beaten back by the use of rifle and machine gun fire, bombs and bayonets, the fire died down after about 20 minutes. At 2.30 a.m. the Turks launched another massed attack across no-man’s land, but were again checked by the massed fire from the Light Horsemen. By this time the clouds had cleared away and the moon had come up, silhouetting the Turks against the skyline, and they were further illuminated by the Kirwan flares thrown out into no-man’s land. At daybreak the attack was over and the firing ceased, scarcely a shot was fired at Russell’s Top for the rest of the day.
From the Turkish perspective little is known of the actual number of casualties suffered by the 18th Regiment, nor of the effect the charge had upon the troops morale. The only inkling is of that gleamed from the interrogation of the few Turks captured. It is only from the Australian sources that any estimate of the number of Turkish killed can be gained, and those estimates range in number from 200 to upwards of 500, the number of wounded fall within similar number range. The actual numbers will never be known, but it can be assumed that the casualty figures would have exceeded to well over a third of both battalions combined strength. All those wounded who were unable to regain their trenches, or able to be pulled back in by the men of both sides, would eventually succumb to their wounds and remain unburied out in no-man’s land until 1919. Thus the eventual casualty figure would be much higher again.
The Turkish troops would have undoubtedly been badly shaken by the ordeal of tragic charge, but they would quickly regroup and continue to fight on ‘until death’ to defend their positions. The result of the failed assault, with its horrendous number of casualties, had an immediate effect upon Abulkadir Bey, he gravely feared that the Australians would counter attack and rushed his remaining reserves into the firing line. He was acutely aware that his regiment was now critically under strength and his chances of holding his front line positions were in grave jeopardy. His fears were allayed, as the 3rd Light Horse Brigade launched no counter attack.
The men of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade had come to Gallipoli with pre-conceived ideas to the Turks barbarism and brutality, having heard all manner of rumours of torture and mutilation of prisoners. Regimental Sergeant Major Walter Strang of the 9th Light Horse Regiment extols that general feeling: ‘All are going dismounted and we expect to see much hard fighting and barbarians. They have mutilated our wounded in a truly awful way and we are going to give them no quarter.’ Within three days of their arrival the true reality of war dispelled such suspicions, with the armistice of the 24th May.
For the first time they were able to observe, from the many Turkish dead who lay between the opposing lines, the courage, bravery and self-sacrifice of the Turkish soldier. From the Turks engaged in the task of burying the dead, and of those who exposed themselves to full view in the opposing trenches, the Light Horsemen could see that their enemy were no different from themselves, just ordinary men who were fighting and dying for their country. Lieutenant Carthew wrote: ‘We heard some awful reports of what they would do when we came here first, if we fell into his hands, but I don’t think there is one thing that can be proved against him.’ Trooper Arthur Gay, No. 380, of’ “C” Sqn, also recounted the sobering thoughts of Lt. Carthew: ‘He couldn’t stand to see anyone suffering, even the Turks. He said to me on the day of the Armistice when they were burying their dead, Isn’t it a shame to see all those game men lying there and he felt that badly it was days before he got his old spirits back.’
Lance/Sergeant Pickett was another who deeply felt the consequences of what had happened with the attack. His opinion of the bravery and determination of the Turk as a fair and able fighter was now one shared by many of his comrades. It is appropriate that to him the last word of the Turkish charge at the Nek should go. His observations bring us full circle:
‘We put a terrific fire into them and they dropped. We got great praise for it as we only lost 6 killed and for every one of our lads killed there were at least 100 Turks. Yes, we were praised for it but what is it all? Only licensed murder and is there any glory in that? I don’t think so, especially as the Turks treat our wounded well. The other day they left water and food with our wounded. Do you ever see anything said of this in the Melbourne papers? I guess not – only what some imaginable person thinks he saw done. None of us bear the Turks any ill will, but here we are trying to kill one another. None of the Turkish officers accompanied their men in the charge; they drove their men out like sheep to a slaughter, and with one exception all stopped in the trenches. Poor devils! They are good fighters and contest every inch of ground.’
“At this spectacle even the most gentle must feel savage,
And the most savage must weep.”
– Mehmet Nazim Bey, 16th Division,
24th May 1915
Contact Jeff Pickerd about this article.