Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, October 27, 2016

A Key Position at Anzac: Battleship Hill


1919 View of Battleship Hill from Baby 700 (Note Skeletal Remains in Foreground)

The Anzacs' objective from Day One of their landing on 25 April 1915 — and for the entire campaign— was to capture Sari Bair, the highest ridge above the landing beaches, especially its central peak, named Chunuk Bair. The southernmost hill of Sari Bair, actually a flat double-peaked formation, became the key defensive point that day for the Turkish troops commanded by Mustafa Kemal. It blocked the direct approach to Chunuk Bair from the south and southwest. The taller hilltop was known locally as D├╝ztepe (Flat Hill). The Allies initially used the terminology Big 700 for this more northern, taller summit and Baby 700 for the lower. The name Big 700, however, only lasted a few days, as a more suitable name for the hill ensued after it became the target for British naval artillery, earning the name Battleship Hill. 

Anzac Sector, Partial Map Showing Locations Discussed in the Article

Battleship Hill was briefly occupied (but not held) by advance units of the Anzacs on 25 April but was successfully defended by Kemal's newly arrived units and held by the Turks for the rest of the campaign. It was a near thing for the Anzacs, though. That morning Lt. Eric Tulloch of the 11th and Captain Joseph Lalor of the 12th Australian Battalion, had landed with their men on North Beach, just north of Anzac Cove. Being fired at immediately from the high ground above, they quickly started their ascent up to the series of ridges before them. Eventually they reached a narrow saddle, later named the Nek, that connected to the slopes of Baby 700. With Lalor and his men in reserve, Tulloch, his platoon, and a second platoon that had made a timely arrival carried on trying to gain control of Battleship Hill, where a rendezvous had been planned, pursuant to a further advance to Chunuk Bair.

They made steady progress, until they reached a position on the inland slope of Battleship Hill. There, Tulloch was faced with a growing problem — at every hill crest they had crossed so far, Turkish opposition had increased, and now he was facing a deep dip in front of his small force with a line of Turks on the slope behind it. Their fire was so intense that his men could only lie down in the shrub that covered the entire area. It was now past 9 o'clock in the morning. Tulloch could see the first slope of Chunuk Bair, only one kilometer distant, but any attempt to advance upon it seemed impossible. When new Turkish troops appeared on the scene and threatened to outflank him, his only option was to retreat to Baby 700, where in the meantime another fight had developed. Baby 700 was also lost eventually. Tulloch's advance to Battleship Hill was the high-water mark for the Anzacs on 25 April.

Turkish troops were dug in on Battleship Hill, having seen firsthand its value in defending the strategic high ground. The fighting in this sector soon took on the character of the Western Front with trenches, sniping, and deadly artillery fire. The aerial photo below shows the extensive trenches at Baby 700 and Battleship Hill.

Trenches at Battleship Hill and Baby 700 —  Left, Turkish Trench Today;
Right, RNAS Aerial Photo, October 1915

Battleship Hill and Baby 700 would remain in Turkish hands until the withdrawal from the Anzac sector in December 1915. A plan to recapture them was part of the Suvla Bay operation in August. Chunuk Bair was to be gained first with an attack from another section, and then defenders on Battleship Hill and Baby 700 rolled up from the rear. The Allied occupation of Chunuk Bair was only minimal, however, as the Allied troops they were once again driven off by infantry commanded by that man of destiny, Mustafa Kemal. Battleship Hill remained a Turkish bastion for the rest of the land campaign. 

Adapted From the Australian War Memorial and Gallipoli.com websites

1 comment:

  1. I would recommend "The Water Diviner" movie to those readers interested in this campaign, or more accurately the aftermath of this campaign and the conditions in this region in the immediate years after Versailles.

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