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Home > Battle histories > Western Front > Despatches > Admiral John de Robeck's Despatch
 
The Despatch of Vice-Admiral John de Robeck, commanding the fleet operations at Gallipoli. Printed in the Second Supplement to the London Gazette of 13 August 1915. The Despatch dealt with the landings and early operations on Gallipoli.
 

To the Secretary of of the Admiralty.

" HMS Triad," July 1, 1915.

Sir,—I have the honour to forward herewith an account of the operations carried out on the 25th and 26th April, 1915, during which period the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force was landed and firmly established in the Gallipoli peninsula.

The landing commenced at 4.20 a.m. on 25th. The general scheme was as follows: — Two main landings were to take place, the first at a.point just north of Gaba Tepe, the second on the southern end of the peninsula. In addition, a landing was to be made at Kum Kale, and a demonstration in force to be carried out in the Gulf of Xeros near Bulair. The night of the 24th-25th was calm and very clear, with a brilliant moon, which set at 3 a.m.

The first landing, north of Gaba Tepe, was carried out under the orders of Rear-Admiral C. P. Thursby, C.M.G. His squadron consisted of the following ships:

Battleships: Cruiser: Destroyers: Seaplane Carrier: Balloon Ship: Trawlers:
Queen.
London.
Prince of Wales.
Triumph.
Majestic.
Bacchante. Beagle.
Bulldog.
Foxhound.
Scourge.
Colne.
Usk.
Chelmer.
Kibble.
Ark Royal. Manica. 15

To "Queen," "London," and "Prince of Wales" was delegated the duty of actually landing the troops. To " Triumph," " Majestic," and "Bacchante" the duty of covering the landing by gunfire. In this landing a surprise was attempted. The first troops to be landed were embarked in the battleships "Queen," "London," and "Prince of Wales." The squadron then approached the land at 2.58 a.m. at a speed of 5 knots. When within a short distance of the beach selected for landing the boats were sent ahead. At 4.20 a.m. the boats reached the beach and a landing was effected. The remainder of the infantry of the covering force were embarked at 10 p.m., 24th. The troops were landed in two trips, the operation occupying about half an hour, this in spite of the fact that the landing was vigorously opposed, the surprise being only partially effected.

The disembarkation of the main body was at once proceeded with. The operations were somewhat delayed owing to the transports having to remain a considerable distance from the shore in order to avoid the howitzer and field guns' fire brought to bear on them and also the fire from warships stationed in the Narrows, Chanak. The beach here was very narrow and continuously under shell fire. The difficulties of disembarkation were accentuated by the necessity of evacuating the wounded; both operations proceeded simultaneously. The service was one which called for great determination and coolness under fire, and the success achieved indicates the spirit animating all concerned. In this respect I would specially mention the extraordinary gallantry and dash shown by the 3rd Australian Infantry Brigade (Colonel E. G. Sinclair Maclagan, D.S.O.), who formed the covering force.

Many individual acts of devotion to duty were performed by the personnel of the Navy; these are dealt with below. Here I should like to place on record the good service performed by the vessels employed in landing the second part of the covering force; the seamanship displayed and the rapidity with which so large a force was thrown on the beach is deserving of the highest praise.

On the 26th the landing of troops, guns and stores continued throughout the day; this was a most trying service, as the enemy kept up
an incessant shrapnel fire, and it was extremely difficult to locate the well-concealed guns of the enemy. Occasional bursts of fire from the ships in the Narrows delayed operations somewhat, but these bursts of fire did not last long, and the fire from our ships always drove the enemy's ships away. The enemy heavily counter-attacked, and though supported by a very heavy shrapnel fire he could make no impression on our line, which was every minute becoming stronger. By nightfall on the 26th April our position north of Gaba Tepe was secure.

The landing at the southern extremity of the Gallipoli peninsula was carried out under the orders of Rear-Admiral R. E. Wemyss, C.M.G., M.V.O., his squadron consisting of the following ships:

Battleships: Cruisers: Fleet Sweepers: Trawlers:
Swiftsure.
Implacable.
Cornwallis.
Albion.
Vengeance.
Lord Nelson.
Prince George.
Euryalus.
Talbot.
Minerva.
Dublin.
6 14


Landings in this area were to be attempted at five different places; the conditions at each landing varied considerably. The position of beaches is given below.

Position of Beach.—
" Y " beach, a point about 7,000 yards north-east of Cape Tekeh.
"X" beach, 1,000 yards north-east of Cape Tekeh.
"W" beach, Cape Tekeh—Cape Helles.
"V" beach, Cape Helles—Seddul Bahr.
Camber, Seddul Bahr.
" S " beach, Eski-Hissarlik Point.


Taking these landings in the above
order:—
Landing at " Y" Beach.—The troops to be first landed, the King's Own Scottish Borderers, embarked on the 24th in the '' Amethyst'' and '' Sapphire '' and proceeded with the transports "Southland" and "Braemar Castle" to a position off Cape Tekeh. At 4.0 a.m. the boats proceeded to " Y " beach, timing their arrival there at 5.0 a.m., and pulled ashore covered by fire from H.M.S. "Goliath." The landing was most successfully and expeditiously carried out, the troops gaining the top of the high cliffs overlooking this beach without being opposed; this result I consider due to the rapidity with which the disembarkation was carried out and the well-placed covering fire from ships. The Scottish Borderers were landed in two trips, followed at once by the Plymouth Battalion Royal Marines. These troops met with severe opposition on the top of the cliffs, where fire from covering ships was of little assistance and, after heavy fighting, were forced to reembark on the 26th. The re-embarkation was carried out by the following ships: " Goliath," "Talbot," "Dublin," "Sapphire," and " Amethyst." It was most ably conducted by the beach personnel and covered by the fire of the warships, who prevented the enemy reaching the edge of the cliff, except for a few snipers.

Landing at " X " Beach.—The 2nd Battalion Royal Fusiliers (two companies and M.G. Section) embarked in "Implacable" on 24th, which ship proceeded to a position off the landing-place, where the disembarkation of the troops commenced at 4.30 a.m., and was completed at 5.15 a.m. A heavy fire was opened on the cliffs on both sides. The "Implacable" approached the beach, and the troops were ordered to land, fire being continued until the boats were close into the beach. The troops on board the " Implacable " were all landed by 7 a.m. without any casualties. The nature of the beach was very favourable for the covering fire from ships, but the manner in which this landing was carried out might well serve as a model.

Landing at "W" Beach.—The 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers embarked in " Euryalus " and " Implacable " on the 24th, who proceeded to positions off the landing place, where the troops embarked in the boats at about 4 a.m. Shortly after 5 a.m. "Euryalus" approached "W" beach and " Implacable " " X " beach. At 5 a.m. the covering ships opened a heavy fire on the beach, which was continued up to the last moment before landing. Unfortunately this fire did not have the effect on the extensive wire entanglements and trenches that had been hoped for, and the troops, on landing at 6 a.m., were met with a very heavy fire from rifles, machine guns, and pom-poms, and found the obstructions on the beach undamaged. The formation of this beach lends itself admirably to the defence, the landing-place being commanded by sloping cliffs offering ideal positions for trenches and giving a perfect field of fire. The only weakness in the enemy's position was on the flanks, where it was just possible to land on the rocks and thus enfilade the more important defences. This landing on the rocks was effected with great skill, and some maxims, cleverly concealed in the cliffs and which completely enfiladed the main beach, were rushed with the bayonet. This assisted to a great extent in the success of the landing, the troops, though losing very heavily, were not to be denied and the beach and the approaches to it were soon in our possession The importance of this success cannot be overestimated; " W " and " V " beaches were the only two of any size, in this area, on which troops, other than infantry, could be disembarked, and failure to capture this one might have had serious consequences as the landing at " V " was held up. The beach was being continuously sniped, and a fierce infantry battle was carried on round it throughout the entire day and the following night. It is impossible to exalt too highly the service rendered by the 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers in the storming of the beach; the dash and gallantry displayed were superb. Not one whit behind in devotion to duty was the work of the beach personnel, who worked untiringly throughout the day and night, landing troops and stores under continual sniping. The losses due to rifle and machine-gun fire sustained by the boats' crews, to which they had not the satisfaction of being able to reply, bear testimony to the arduous nature of the service. During the night of the 25th-26th enemy attacked continuously, and it was not till 1 p.m. on the 26th, when " V '"beach was captured,that our position might be said to be secure. The work of landing troops, guns, and stores continued throughout this period and the conduct of all concerned left nothing to be desired.

Landing at. "V" Beach.—This beach, it was anticipated, would be the most difficult to capture; it possessed all the advantages for defence which "W" beach had, and in addition the flanks were strongly guarded by the old castle and village of Seddul Bahr on the east and perpendicular cliffs on the west; the whole foreshore was covered with barbed wire entanglements which extended in places under the sea. The position formed a natural amphitheatre with the beach as stage. The first landing here, as at all other places, was made in boats, but the experiment was tried of landing the remainder of the covering force by means of a collier, the " River Clyde." This steamer had been specially prepared for the occasion under the directions of Commander Edward Unwin; large ports had been cut in her sides and gangways built whereby the troops could reach the lighters which were to form a bridge on to the beach. " V " beach was subjected to a heavy bombardment similarly to "W" beach, with the same result, i.e., when the first trip attempted to land they were met with a murderous fire from rifle, pom-pom and machine gun, which was not opened till the boats had cast off from the steamboats. A landing on the flanks here was impossible and practically all the first trip were either killed or wounded, a few managing to find some slight shelter under a bank on the beach; in several boats all were either killed or wounded; one boat entirely disappeared, and in another there were only two survivors. Immediately after the boats had reached the beach the '' River Clyde '' was run ashore under a heavy fire rather towards the eastern end of the beach, where she could form a convenient breakwater during future landing of stores, &c. As the "River Clyde" grounded, the lighters which were to form the bridge to the shore were run out ahead of the collier, but unfortunately they failed to reach their proper stations and a gap was left between two lighters over which it was impossible for men to cross; some attempted to land by lumping from the lighter which was in position into the sea and wading ashore; this method proved too costly, the lighter being soon heaped with dead and the disembarkation was ordered to cease. The troops in the " River Clyde " were protected from rifle and machine-gun fire and were in comparative safety. Commander Unwin, seeing how things were going, left the " River Clyde " and, standing up to his waist in water under a very heavy fire, got the lighters into position; he was assisted in this work by Midshipman G. L. Drewry, R.N.R., of H.M.S. "Hussar"; Midshipman W. St. A. Malleson, R.N., of H.M.S. " Cornwallis " : Able Seaman W. C. Williams, O.N. 186774 (R.F.R. B.3766), and Seaman R.N.R. George McKenzie Samson, O.N. 2408A, both of H.M.S. " Hussar." The bridge to the shore, though now passable, could not be used by the troops, anyone appearing on it being instantly shot down, and the men in " River Clyde" remained in her till nightfall. At 9.50 a.m. " Albion " sent in launch and pinnace manned by volunteer crews to assist in completing bridge, which did not quite reach beach; these boats, however, could not be got into position until dark owing to heavy fire.

It had already been decided not to continue to disembark on " V " Beach, and all other troops intended for this beach were diverted to "W." The position remained unchanged on " V " beach throughout the day, men of war and the maxims mounted in " River Clyde " doing their utmost to keep down the fire directed on the men under partial shelter on the beach. During this period many heroic deeds were performed in rescuing wounded men in the water. During the night of the 25th-26th the troops in "River Clyde" were able to disembark under cover of darkness and obtain some shelter on the beach and in the village of Seddul Bahr, for possession of which now commenced a most stubborn fight. The fight continued, supported ably by gunfire from H.M.S. "Albion," until 1.24 p.m., when our troops had gained a position from which they assaulted hill 141, which dominated the situation. " Albion" then ceased fire, and the hill, with old fort on top, was most gallantly stormed by the troops, led by Lieutenant-Colonel C. H. H. Doughty-Wylie, General Staff, who fell as the position was won. The taking of this hill effectively cleared the enemy from the neighbourhood of the "V" Beach, which could now be used for the disembarkation of the allied armies. The capture of this beach called for a display of the utmost gallantry and perseverance from the officers and men of both services—that they successfully accomplished their task bordered on the miraculous.

Landing on the Camber, Seddul Bahr.— One half company Royal Dublin Fusiliers landed here, without opposition, the Camber being " dead ground." The advance from the Camber, however, was only possible on a narrow front, and after several attempts to enter the village of Seddul Bahr this half company had to withdraw after suffering heavy losses.

Landing at " De Totts" "S" Beach.— The 2nd South Wales Borderers (less one company) and a detachment 2nd London Field Company R.E. were landed in boats, convoyed by " Cornwallis," and covered by that ship and "Lord Nelson." Little opposition was encountered, and the hill was soon in the possession of the South Wales Borderers. The enemy attacked this position on the evening of the 25th and during the 26th, but our troops were firmly established, and with the assistance of the covering ships all attacks were easily beaten off.

Landing at Kum, Kale.—The landing here was undertaken by the French. It was most important to prevent the enemy occupying positions in this neighbourhood, whence he could bring gun fire to bear on the transports off Cape Helles. It was also hoped that by holding1 this position it would be possible to deal effectively with the enemy's guns on the Asiatic shore immediately east of Kum Kale, which could fire into Seddul Bahr and De Totts. The French, after a heavy preliminary bombardment, commenced to land at about 10 a.m., and by the afternoon the whole of their force had been landed at Kum Kale. When they attempted to advance to Yeni Shehr, their immediate objective, they were met by heavy fire from well-concealed trenches, and were held up just south of Kum Kale village. During the night of the 25th-26th the enemy made several counter-attacks, all of which were easily driven off; during one of these 400 Turks were captured, their retreat being cut off by the fire from the battleships. On the 26th, when it became apparent that no advance was possible without entailing severe losses and the landing of large reinforcements, the order was given for the French to withdraw and re-embark, which operation was carried out without serious opposition.

I now propose to make the following more general remarks on the conduct of the operations : — From the very first the co-operation between army and navy was most happy; difficulties which arose were quickly surmounted, and nothing could have succeeded the tactfulness and forethought of Sir Ian Hamilton and his staff. The loyal support which I received from Contre-Amiral E. P. A. Guepratte simplified the task of landing the Allied armies simultaneously. The Russian fleet was represented by H.I.R.M.S. "Askold," which ship was attached to the French squadron. Contre-Amiral Guepratte bears testimony to the value of the support he received from Captain Ivanoff, especially during the landing and re-embarkation of the French troops at Kum Kale. The detailed organisation of the landing could not be commenced until the Army Headquarters returned from Egypt on the 10th April. The work to be done was very great, and the naval personnel and material available small. Immediately on the arrival of the Army Staff at Mudros, committees, composed of officers of both services, commenced to work out the details of the landing operations, and it was due to these officers' indefatigable efforts that the expedition was ready to land on the 22nd April. The keenness displayed by the officers and men resulted in a good standard of efficiency, especially in the case of the Australian and New Zealand Corps, who appear to be natural boatmen. Such actions as the storming of the Seddul Bahr position by the 29th Division must live in history for ever; innumerable deeds of heroism and daring were performed; the gallantry and absolute contempt for death displayed alone made the operations possible. At Gaba Tepe the landing and the dash of the Australian Brigade for the cliffs was magnificent—nothing could stop such men. The Australian and New Zealand Army Corps in this, their first battle, set a standard as high as that of any army in history, and one of which their countrymen have every reason to be proud.

In closing this despatch I beg to bring to their Lordships' notice the names of certain officers and men who have performed meritorious service. The great traditions of His Majesty's Navy were well maintained, and the list of names submitted of necessity lacks those of many officers and men who performed gallant deeds unobserved and therefore unnoted. This standard was high, and if I specially mention one particular Action it is that of Commander Unwin and the two young officers and two seamen who assisted him in the work of establishing communication between "River Clyde " and the beach. Rear-Admirals R. E Wemyss, C.M.G., M.V.O., C. P. Thursby, C.M.G., and Stuart Nicholson, M.V.O., have rendered invaluable service. Throughout they have been indefatigable in their efforts to further the success of the operations, and their loyal support has much lightened my duties and responsibilities. I have at all times received the most loyal support from the Commanding Officers of His Majesty's ships during an operation which called for the display of great initiative and Captain R. F. Phillimore, C.B., M.V.O., A.D.C., as principal Beach Master, and Captain D. L. Dent, as principal Naval Transport Officer, performed most valuable service.

[A list of those "mentioned" in this Despatch follows].

I have, &c.,
J. M. DE ROBECK, Vice-Admiral.

 
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