Battle of the Vineyard, August 6–7, 1915.
On July 24, Major-General Douglas had assumed temporary command of the 8th Corps until August 8, the command of the Division during that period being taken by Major-General W. R. Marshall.
On August 6 the period of comparative inactivity came to an end. The primary purpose of the Gallipoli campaign was to obtain possession of the Narrows, and thus secure command of the Dardanelles and cut off communication with the Asiatic shore. It had been hoped to achieve this by pushing forward from the south, but the original force had been far too small for the purpose. During May, June and July the Turkish garrison had been much increased, and also the supply of guns and shells, and the defences on Achi Baba greatly and most ably strengthened, whereas the British reinforcements and drafts to fill the gaps had been relatively small. There was little prospect of success by a frontal assault from Helles, and the loss that would be incurred by a futile attempt would cripple the Allies and remove all chance of ultimate success. The Commander-in-Chief decided upon an attempt to reach the Narrows at Maidos, five miles across the peninsula from Anzac, the formidable Sari Bair range intervening. A new landing was to be made on August 6 and 7 at Suvla Bay, a few miles to the north of Anzac cove, and it was hoped that the force landed here would seize the northern slopes of the Sari Bair range, while the troops from Anzac would storm the central and southern heights. On August 6 an attack was to be made from the right of Anzac in order to divert attention from both the landing and the true objective; and a vigorous offensive was ordered at Helles, with the object of containing as large a Turkish force as possible within the southern area and of drawing their reserves from the north. There appeared to be good prospects of a decisive success, and hopes were high.
The line of trenches from the Achi Baba Nullah to the Krithia Nullah (both inclusive) was held by the 125th Brigade on the right and the 127th on the left, the 126th being in reserve. The French were on the right of the 125th Brigade and the 29th Division on the left of the 127th Brigade. The 5th Manchesters, who were acting in conjunction with the 88th Brigade (29th Division) had for objective a Turkish trench on the right of that Brigade. The bombardment began at 2.30 p.m. on the 6th, and soon H.E. shells could be seen bursting in the trench which the 5th had been ordered to take.
At 3.50 p.m. they attacked, but on reaching the objective, found that they had been enticed into a dummy trench, without cover, and exposed to enfilade fire. To prevent the right flank of the 29th Division being left “in the air,” Captain Fawcus, commanding the first line of the 7th Manchesters, was ordered, about 8 p.m., to get into touch. Arriving at a trench which he expected to find occupied by the 88th Brigade, he called out: “Are the Worcesters there?” and was heavily fired upon. Moving to the left he still found the enemy in occupation of the trench, and fell back. On his way to rejoin the second line he came across a small party of the Worcesters and took them with him. The two parties regained the firing-line in the small hours of the morning, having lost 40 men out of 200. That Captain Fawcus returned safely was amazing, his clothes being riddled with bullets.
A few hours later the Battle of the Vineyard began, the bombardment by British and French batteries opening at 8.10 a.m., and increasing in intensity at nine o’clock when the naval guns joined in. The fire on the trenches south-east of Krithia Nullah was both heavy and accurate, but the trenches within the triangle formed by the fork of the nullahs suffered but little. Half a battalion of the 126th Brigade [9th Manchesters] was attached to the 125th Brigade on the right, and another half-battalion [9th Manchesters] to the 127th Brigade on the left. One battalion of the 126th Brigade was to hold the original line. Two batteries of machine-guns assisted by bringing a cross fire to bear on the enemy’s trenches.
At 9.40 a.m., the troops went forward with their usual dash, wearing tin back-plates that could be seen by the artillery “spotters”. On the right, the Lancashire Fusiliers gained their first objective, but the 5th and 8th found that their portion was merely a very shallow trench raked by enfilade fire. Parties of the 6th and 7th reached their second objective, but enfilade fire and superior numbers compelled them to fall back. One of the few officers to reach this objective was Major W. J. Law, 7th Lancashire Fusiliers, who took part in all the subsequent fighting in the Vineyard. Soon after 11 a.m. portions of the first objective were retaken by a strong Turkish counter-attack, but the Vineyard remained in our hands.
The 5th and 7th L.F. made a gallant effort to recover what had been lost and were partially successful. At 1.30 p.m. another enemy counter-attack in close formation was caught by our guns and brought to a standstill. The Turks suffered severely in counter-attacks upon the Vineyard, and for some hours gave up the attempt in this quarter, but resumed it late at night with no more success.
The 5th and 8th L.F. reoccupied a portion of their first objective in the evening. Parties of the 4th East Lancashires and 10th Manchesters gave great assistance both in attack and defence. On the left, the Manchesters showed similar dash and determination, but owing to the greater difficulties of the ground between and about the nullahs and to the intricacy of the Turkish trench system, which, with the nests of machine-guns, had escaped our shells, they were unable to hold any of the trenches taken in the initial assault, and their losses were grievous, the attacking lines being mown down by the enemy’s machine-guns.
The casualties during the two days were: –
The result was that a tactical point of some importance had been won and held by the tenacity of the 125th Brigade, and that a large Turkish force had been pinned down when urgently needed in the north. The Turks had, indeed, been massing troops in front of the Division as they had intended to attack our lines in force, on the 6th or 7th of August. Sir Ian Hamilton telegraphed to the Corps Commander: “Your operations have been invaluable, and have given the Northern Corps the greatest possible help by drawing the main Turkish effort on yourselves. I was sure you were ready for them tonight. Well done, 8th Corps.”
But though the sacrifice had not been altogether in vain, the advance from Suvla Bay and Anzac had failed, and the conquest of the Dardanelles seemed more remote than ever. And yet for one half-hour it had seemed so near! Of all the many lamentable tragedies of the campaign surely the most dramatic, the most appealing, was that on Chunuk Bair, at dawn on the 9th of August, when companies of the 6th Gurkhas and 6th South Lancashires had stormed the cliffs and driven the Turks headlong before them. From the top of the saddle they looked down upon the promised land. Below them the goal – Maidos, and the Narrows! The way lay open and victory was in sight – was already achieved !-and the Turkish Army in the south would be cut off ! But these four hundred men alone of all the Allied troops that landed on the peninsula were destined to view the promised land. Flushed with triumph, Gurkhas and Lancastrians intermingled raced down the slopes after the fleeing Turks. And then the blow fell – truly a bolt out of the blue — a salvo of heavy shells crashing with infernal accuracy into the midst of them, mangling and destroying the exulting victors. Where that salvo came from will probably never be known with certainty, but there can be little doubt that the shells were British. The remnants of the little force could only make for shelter; there was no shelter in front, and the chance had gone, never to return.
To return to the 42nd Division. In and about the Vineyard held by the 6th and 7th Lancashire Fusiliers, the fighting surged and swayed for several days. The Turk fought gamely, with grim determination, and the casualties on both sides were heavy. The C.O.s of the two battalions had been ordered to remain at their Headquarters in communication with the Brigadier, and the Adjutants, Captains Spafford and Gledhill, held on tenaciously. Spafford was killed, and the order to retire was sent, but Gledhill’s pertinacity got this order withdrawn, and the Vineyard was held. A successful and very gallant stand against great odds was made by “A” Company, 9th Manchesters, on the nights of August 7–8, when the first V.C. awarded to the Division was won by Lieutenant W. T. Forshaw, who was in temporary command of the company. Two M.C.s and two D.C.M.s were also won by the company. Forshaw was holding the northern corner of this small oblong with a bombing party when he was attacked by a swarm of Turks who converged from three trenches. For the greater part of two days he kept them at bay, and even threw back, before they had time to explode, the bombs they threw at him. In the words of the Official Report-
“He held his own, not only directing his men and encouraging them by exposing himself with the utmost disregard of danger, but personally throwing bombs continuously for forty-one hours. When his detachment was relieved after twenty-four hours, he volunteered to continue the direction of operations. Three times during the night of August 8–9 he was again heavily attacked, and once the Turks got over the barricade; but after shooting three with his revolver he led his men forward and recaptured it. When he rejoined his battalion he was choked and sickened by bomb fumes, badly bruised by a fragment of shrapnel, and could barely lift his arm from continuous bomb throwing.”
On the 8th and 9th the 126th Brigade relieved the 125th and continued the struggle, and Lieutenant S. Collier, 6th Manchesters, gained the M.C. for a good bit of work on the right of the Vineyard. A trench held by a group of men of the 126th Brigade was fiercely attacked by enemy bombers, and its capture appeared certain. Collier, however, organized and led the defence, and though he had never before handled a bomb, he displayed much aptitude with this weapon; and in spite of persistent attacks, continued throughout the night, the Turks were beaten off. On the night of the 12th the enemy attacked in mass and captured the Vineyard, but the next day were bombed out of it, and it was finally consolidated and held. Throughout the operations the Divisional Engineers had worked and exposed themselves as fearlessly as ever. Their services were continuously in demand, and they had never been found wanting. The bulk of the work on this occasion had fallen on the 1st Field Company. The Signal Company, too, had proved how competent all its branches were. Much of its work is not done in the limelight, and it may be mentioned that the average number of messages passing through the Signal Office daily had been about three hundred. In times of stress this number was greatly increased.
On August 13, the 42nd Division was relieved in the trenches and went into Corps Reserve. The following 8th Army Corps Special Order was issued next day: –
“The 42nd Division has now been withdrawn into Reserve after having been in the firing-line for three months without relief. During this time the Division has taken part in three big attacks, and has been subjected to the continuous strain of holding, improving and extending our line and communications under constant fire.
Though some units have distinguished themselves more than others, the Division has, throughout this arduous period, displayed a dash in attack and a spirit of determination and endurance in defence which is worthy of the best traditions of the British Army. The persistence with which the enemy were held off during the recent determined attack, and part of the ground lost gradually recovered in face of strong opposition, was a fitting conclusion to the period during which the Division has been in front line.
The Lieut.-General Commanding wishes to express to Major-General Douglas and his staff, as well as to all ranks of the Division, his appreciation of their good work, and he looks forward to seeing them again display the same soldierly qualities in active operations against the enemy at an early date.”