National Army Museum, Waiouru, New Zealand : Military History & Army War Museum

Chunuk Bair: We Remember the Heroism and Sacrifice

In the Fire Trenches NAM 1987-1647)

In the Fire Trenches NAM 1987-1647)

In August 1915, the Allied force made its last attempt to break the stalemate on Gallipoli and General Sir Ian Hamilton’s plan envisaged two columns advancing on to the Sari Bair Range, with the view to capturing the key high points of Chunuk Bair, Hill Q, and Hill 971 (Koja Chemen Tepe) during the night of 6-7 August. The New Zealanders were to make the main assault on Chunuk Bair while the Australians would make diversionary attacks at Lone Pine and the Nek.

Once again, it was a complicated plan, having to stick to strict timetables to ‘pull it off’. With no more room at Anzac Cove, Hamilton sent troops to Suvla with the idea to support the Anzacs. It didn’t happen. Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford was a poor, timid British commander who had been long-retired. He wanted the troops to establish a base at Suvla rather than provide support, so the Anzacs and other allies were on their own.

The offensive opened on 6 August with diversionary attacks at both Helles and Anzac’s Lone Pine. The fighting went on for four days as men bombed and bayoneted each other to seize and hold a piece of ground the size of a rugby field; ground that was criss-crossed with trenches, each roofed over with logs. It was slow moving and bloody. Bodies of both Turks and Aussies were piled five and six deep in places. Over 2300 Australians were killed or wounded in the fight for Lone Pine. Seven Victoria Crosses were awarded to the Australians who fought in this battle.

Also on the night of 6 August, the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, supported by the Maori Contingent, took the foothills below the summit in a silent night attack. Charles Bean, the Australian War Correspondent and historian, described this attack as: “a magnificent feat of arms, the brilliance of which was never surpassed, if indeed equaled during the campaign.”

Another attack to support the Kiwis’ advance on Chunuk Bair was an Australian attack at the Nek on 7 August. Poor planning meant artillery fire had stopped seven minutes before the attack and when the men of the 8th and 10th Light Horse got out of their trenches and charged a piece of ground slightly bigger than a tennis court, they were shot down by Turkish rifle and machine gun fire. Two hundred and thirty eight Light Horsemen died in the attack and the waste of life was portrayed in the Australian series Gallipoli.

The attack on Chunuk Bair unfolded as follows: The Aucklanders, supported by the Ghurkhas attacked uphill in daylight in the face of Turkish machine gun fire. After suffering appalling casualties their attack was halted short of the summit. The Wellington Battalion was ordered up the hill to exploit the Aucklanders limited gains, but their commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, refused to send his men to be slaughtered and instead insisted that they be allowed to attack at night. This was eventually permitted and before dawn on 8 August the Wellingtons took the hill against virtually no opposition. They dug in as best they could and prepared for the Turkish counter-attacks.

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, commander Wellington Battalion

Lieutenant Colonel William Malone, commander Wellington Battalion

The Turks counter-attacked ferociously throughout the day and the Wellingtons defended with equal ferocity. When the men ran out of ammunition, they fought with bayonet, rocks and teeth. It was brutal and reduced men to savages. The British 7th Gloucester Battalion on the Wellingtons’ left flank was broken and forced off the hill as the Auckland Mounted Rifles moved up to support the Wellingtons. However, by late in the day, after turning back countless attacks, the Wellingtons were virtually wiped out. Malone, their commander was dead after fighting hand to hand in his final hours, a victim of artillery fire from British warships. Only 70 men were left of the close-to-800 men that had taken the hill.

For the Auckland Mounted Rifles, on the hot afternoon of the 8th, they would creep up Rhododendron Ridge and join the survivors of the heroic Wellington Infantry Battalion on Chunuk Bair. On the way up the ridge, they had to pass the bodies of the dead and dying. It was heartbreaking. Once on the hill, they withstood fierce Turkish bayonet attacks and relentless showers of hand grenades, and artillery, rifle and machine gun fire. They also gave as good as they got and continued to fight until ordered off the hill late on the 9th. Over the three days of fighting, the Auckland Mounted Rifles had 85 men killed with many more wounded.

The Otago Infantry and the Wellington Mounted Rifles replaced the destroyed Wellington Infantry Battalion and prepared for a second day of desperate defence. Throughout the daylight hours of 9 August the Turks counter-attacked continuously. The Otagos and Wellington Mounteds fought them to a standstill and were still in possession of the hill at the close of the day, however both units were decimated and were replaced by the British 6th North Lancashire and the 5th Wiltshire Battalions.

On the morning of 10 August the Turks counter-attacked again. The two British battalions were swamped by the attack and thrown off the hill in disarray. The greatest opportunity in achieving the original campaign objective was lost.

The New Zealanders on Chunuk Bair had fought and died in a manner which today is recognised as one of the epic battles of New Zealand’s military history. It if fitting that it is on the heights of Chunuk Bair that the New Zealand Gallipoli memorial stands to this day.