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

Friday, July 27, 2018

Gully Ravine at Helles: Missed Opportunity and High-Water Mark

Entrance to Gully Ravine, 1915 and 2009
On Omaha Beach in Normandy there are five cuts or draws that were the keys to U.S. forces exiting the beach on D-Day in 1944. The Gallipoli peninsula has similar features, called "gullies" that run from the Cape Helles and Anzac sector beaches to the higher ground inland. Some gullies at Gallipoli are deep enough to allow troops to advance unseen by enemy forces above them on either side. In both areas these are concentrated on the Aegean side of the peninsula, away from the straits. At Helles, the deepest of these — 30 meters at some points — and the most complex with smaller cuts radiating off its main branch is known, somewhat redundantly, as Gully Ravine. 

Advancing North, Gully Ravine Is Progressively Deeper

Its entrance is off a beach located between Y and X beaches (see map below) that was designated as Y2 when it was considered as a landing site. It runs nearly 5 km directly within half a kilometer of Krithia, the initial objective of the Helles landings.

Gully Ravine was significant twice over during the campaign. On the day of the landing it represented the greatest missed opportunity for a quick knockout blow against the modest, but effective, Turkish forces defending the landing zone. Two thousand troops from three battalions sent to supplement the 29th Division landed unopposed at Y Beach the morning of 25 April. The rugged terrain and a confused command structure kept them from organizing and advancing. One of the battalion commanders, however, discovered Gully Ravine and to his surprise found he was able to view the main objective, Krithia, from Gully's terminus. But a belated decision was made locally to dig in around the beachhead, and shortly afterwards Turkish troops arrived on the scene and attacked immediately. The British forces incurred very heavy casualties, and within 24 hours the beach required evacuation. The opportunity had passed. 

The Allies would never advance as close to their first-day objectives again. Once both sides discovered the strategic value of Gully Ravine it became the site of constant attacks and counterattacks throughout the Helles campaign. It even gave its name to one of the final actions in the sector. 

Gully Ravine in Yellow, Farthest Advance of the Entire Campaign in Red

In late June, in what came to be known as the Battle of Gully Ravine, the 29th Division, supplemented by Indian troops and a brigade of the newly arrived 52nd Division, mounted a limited attack toward Krithia. An advance of 1 km was made despite ferocious counterattacks by Turkish troops. It was the high-water mark of the otherwise failed Helles campaign. After the battle, the high command gave up on any advance from Cape Helles. The first-day objectives of Krithia and Achi Baba were simply unattainable. The main invasion site of the original invasion would simply serve as a diversion until the end of the year, when its evacuation began.