Turkish story - Alçitepe (Achi Baba)
The main Allied landing of the Gallipoli campaign was at Cape Helles. It took place on five beaches. If you think of Cape Helles as the palm of your hand: S beach on the left is the thumb then V beach, W beach, X beach and the little finger is Y beach.
The commander of the Allied Forces at Gallipoli, General Ian Hamilton, also decided to put a force ashore at Gabe Tepe. For this he selected the Anzacs. Hamilton split the Allied forces into two groups. Half of the force landed 20 kilometres further north at Gabe Tepe and half of the force landed at Cape Helles.
But the difference between the two landings was that the Anzacs landed at Anzac Cove, slightly north of their intended landing site, in darkness at 4.30 a.m., but the British landed here at about 5.30 a.m. By this time it was getting light.
It was not a good idea to land in daylight because back then they did not have proper landing craft but used little boats that each carried between 40 and 50 men, all packed in like sardines. The British soldiers were very exposed, despite beaching the River Clyde, an old cargo ship, in an attempt to get men ashore.
At 5.30 a.m., after a bombardment, the landings began on the five Cape Helles beaches. The British got ashore without difficulty at two beaches, but didn’t take advantage of this. The Turkish units on shore resisted, and fighting went on for nearly two days, when the British eventually secured the five beaches, but at a great cost.
The Turks retreated about two kilometres inland and dug in. The first Battle of Krithia was fought on the 28th of April but nobody gained much territory. Then the Turkish counterattacked, carrying out two night attacks. The Turks were brought here after a long march and they couldn’t see their front line in the dark, only rifles flashing in the distance.
They attacked enemy lines during the night. In the morning they found that they were in the open, very close to the beaches. The British navy lying offshore pounded the exposed Turks. The 15th division lost almost half of its men, with 8000 casualties in one attack.
In early May the New Zealand Infantry Brigade and an Australian brigade were redeployed here from the Anzac sector. They spent the 6th and 7th of May waiting behind the lines then joined the fighting. On the morning of the 8th of May they attacked and were halted, and the Turks thought it was over, but then in the afternoon the New Zealanders and their allies attacked again.
The area around Anzac Cove is rugged country and the terrain gives cover. But here in Cape Helles the New Zealanders were in the open so casualties were high. When the infantry attacked men went into line in echelons. The fire came from the flanks, which gave no chance to the soldiers, so it was very bloody fighting.
That’s why Turks say that the battles here in Cape Helles were bloodier than the battles at Anzac. In a single day here, the New Zealanders suffered about 1000 casualties out of roughly 7,000 suffered in the entire campaign.
A Turkish account describes how on the night of the 8th of May some Turks heard a wounded Allied soldier moaning in no-man’s-land. A soldier was sent to pull him into the Turkish line, and they dressed his wounds. They offered him some drink, but he suspected it might be poisoned so he refused.
He used sign language to say ‘you drink first and then I’ll drink’, so they sipped a bit and then gave the water to him. He finished it very quickly. He was so thirsty but not trusting.
Another Turkish account talks of being in the trenches and looking one way out to the Dardanelles; another way out to the Aegean Sea. They had water to their left; water to their right, but they were like dirty, smelling beasts, wearing clothes for days on end. It was a very hard life in the trenches.
Many New Zealand men were lost at Krithia, some even before they reached Turkish lines. The 8th of May attack failed and the survivors were moved back to the Anzac area, the day after the Turks attacked the Anzacs on the 19th of May.
Turkish sources estimate that they suffered nearly 150,000 casualties at Cape Helles, and that the Allies lost almost the same number. So this was a bloodbath.
Around here, May is a time when everything is green and poppies and other flowers appear. It’s hard to believe what happened here 100 years ago. However, farmers and other people living here say that when they came here they couldn’t use the land because it was all shells, bones, and barbed wire. It took them 10 years to make this land arable.
According to farmers in the village, in 1943, nearly thirty years after the battle, they collected almost 100 cartons of bones. These were put in an ossuary, which is shaped like a well, and a memorial was placed on top.