Primary Documents - German Officer's View on the Battle of Sari Bair, 6 August 1915
Reproduced below is an account of the Battle of Sari Bair by a German aide to German General Liman von Sanders. In this account - viewed and authorised by Sanders himself - the aide recounts how the Allied plan to capture the height of Sari Bair was decisively repelled by Turkish forces operating under Sanders' command.
The aide's account of the battle was somewhat hagiographic; writing of the Allied strategy and Sanders' response he argued "if the brilliantly planned operation failed, it was because Sir Ian Hamilton met in the commander of the Fifth Turkish Army a master who in a few moves answered 'check' with 'checkmate'.
There was no doubt however that the Allied setback was real; Hamilton (the British Commander-in-Chief) wrote as much in his own account of the battle. Similarly the British Minister of War, Lord Kitchener, acknowledged the setback.
Click here to read the account of British journalist Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett.
The Battle of Sari Bair by an (anonymous) aide to German General Liman von Sanders (overseeing Turkish operations)
Toward 4 p.m, on August 6th artillery preparation was begun against our positions, with a stupendous expenditure of ammunition. Days before, the enemy, after fair fighting, had set up great tents at this point, marking them each with the sign of the Red Cross; and for this reason they had not been fired upon. As a matter of fact, however, these tents were not intended to serve as shelters for the wounded. Under cover of night, the English set up heavy howitzers at this point - only thus was it possible for them to undertake a surprise attack here.
After drumfire of an hour and a half, 4,000 Britons attacked the strongly entrenched positions of the defenders. The situation grew critical. Indeed, the enemy's plan of compelling the Turks to call up reserves and thus to divert troops succeeded. Essad Pasha could do nothing but call up reinforcements from all quarters. Marshal von Sanders offered the services of Kannengiesser's division, which in the interval had arrived from the southern front. But it was soon evident that their active participation was unnecessary, although for the time being the troops were held at this point against possible eventualities.
By means of sham manoeuvres at various points of attack, though "sham" is scarcely the word, since extraordinarily bloody battles developed both at the south group and at Kanly Sirt, the British general, Hamilton, believed that he had sufficiently committed his opponent; and so, on the evening of August 6th, he inaugurated his grandiose plan, which was to lay open the Dardanelles for the Allies from Kodja Djemendagh on, and at the same time to cut off the rearward communications of the Turkish army.
Had this operation been successful, the way to Constantinople would have been open; hard-pressed Russia could have received the longed-for help by way of the Black Sea; the Turkish army on Gallipoli would have been put in an extremely dangerous situation, and the name of Sir Ian Hamilton would have been inscribed on the roster of the great strategists of the world.
Any one who observed the ensuing conflicts will unhesitatingly give the highest praise to the death-defying courage of the troops who landed on Suvla Bay. The "Anzacs," as the English newspapers called the Australia-New Zealand Army Corps, fought like lions. If the brilliantly planned operation failed, it was because Sir Ian Hamilton met in the commander of the Fifth Turkish Army a master who in a few moves answered "check" with "checkmate."
The night of the 6th of August settled down pitch black. All day the rain had fallen unceasingly. Not a ray from the moon, not a sparkle from the stars, could penetrate the thick canopy of clouds. It was so dark that a man could scarcely see his hand before his face. The great transports entered Suvla Bay with all lights out. Not even their outlines were visible. Phosphorescence gleamed in the foam of the waves breaking on the beach. But beyond stretched the eerie blankness of the night.
Everything that happened out there was as if behind a veil. Without a word, without a sound, the troops entered the lighters brought for the purpose. On the northern and southern promontories and opposite Tuslagol Australians and New Zealanders landed with noiseless footsteps.
The Turkish outposts before the main positions on the rim of the heights which on the west overlook the lowland of Tuslagol drew back in the face of overwhelming numbers, and immediately a field telephone informed the army high command of the landing of strong forces. Liman Pasha without delay sent an alarm to the two divisions stationed in the north-eastern part of the peninsula for the protection of the Gulf of Saros, and started them for Anaforta by forced marches.
At the same time the division of Djemil Bey, part of the right wing of the southern troops, was started toward Kodja Djemendagh. The enemy on Suvla Bay at once made bridgeheads of Softa and Laletepe to assure the safety of further landings.
Another part of the Anzac corps landed south of Suvla Bay at the mouth of the Asmakdere. At the same time the Thirteenth Kitchener Division and a mixed division made up of New Zealanders and Australians, which had made use of the landing place at Ari Burun, marched northward, hugging the coast.
Then turning eastward, they followed the dry river beds of the Saslidere and the Agylldere and a ravine running parallel to and between the two valleys toward Kodja Djemendagh. On the morning of the 7th two new divisions which had landed on Suvla Bay in the night marched to the south to join those which had landed at the Asmakdere.
During the night of the 7th-8th Colonel Kannengiesser received orders to march against the right wing of the northern group. As the dawn began to break, he reached with two regiments Djonk Bahir, a south-easterly spur of Kodja Djemendagh, just as the enemy, after climbing to these heights from the sea under cover of darkness, was making preparations to dig in there.
The order to attack was quickly given. Some rapid fire salvos were discharged at the Anzacs, busy at the work of entrenching; then the colonel himself led his troops in an assault on the surprised foe.
The Anzacs were about to abandon the heights in wild flight when the colonel, pressing forward far in advance of his men, was struck in the breast by a rifle bullet and fell unconscious. At the sight the ranks of the attackers wavered. Their dearly loved German leader might have led them to certain victory, but now they hesitated, and though they had already won much ground, were inclined to retire slowly, when Djemil Bey appeared with the Fourth Division.
He took in the situation at once, assumed command of the troops and infused in them the spirit to carry forward their invincible attack. Everywhere the British were thrown from the heights. Not till halfway down the slope could they make a stand, and under the protection of their ships' guns dig in.
On the same morning a regiment of the enemy moved from the landing place at Softatepe, the northern promontory of Suvla Bay, toward Kiretschtepe and attacked a battalion of Gallipoli gendarmerie. These were oldish men - the beards of some were white - recruited entirely from the peninsula. But they were defending their homes, and the greater strength of the enemy was unable to drive the gallant fellows from their carefully prepared positions.
Another body of the enemy had proceeded through Tuslagol, now almost completely dried up, and from Laletepe against Mestamtepe. At this point the attackers succeeded in holding their positions.
During the night of the 7th-8th still other troops in considerable numbers disembarked on Suvla Bay. The lack of heavy artillery and the shortage of ammunition were now seriously felt by the Turks. Had conditions in this respect been different, the enemy's transport and battle fleet, which was now calmly anchored between the two tongues of land forming the bay, protected against U-boat attack by a steel net stretched between the two headlands, could not have stayed there, and the landing of troops would have been very much more difficult.
Gradually, on the morning of the 8th, the pale grey of the ships' hulls was detached from the fog wreaths which still veiled the sea. Lightning flashed from the muzzles of cannon. The roar came up like thunder from the sea. Endless seconds passed.
Then, from the slopes of Kodja Djemendagh, there was the noise of the Anzac guns that had been landed there; a shorter sound wave struck the ear. And now broke loose a storm of iron and lead. The entire fleet off shore directed its fire against the summit of Kodja Djemendagh, which soon looked precisely like an active volcano. The whole mountain cone was enveloped in a cloud of many-coloured smoke and dust. A terrible and yet a fascinating sight! Still nothing stirred in the Turkish lines.
Just as the hellish concert reached its climax, the Turkish howitzers, which during the night, through prodigious exertions, had been placed on the heights north and south of Anafarta, joined in. Only a single shot fell here and there. On our side the costly ammunition had to be most carefully husbanded.
Very cleverly the enemy had set up on the landing places field hospitals, from which fluttered, in plain view from a great distance, the sign of the Red Cross. This, according to army orders, must be rigorously respected.
The Marshal mounted his horse. His presence was needed. Up on Kodja Djemendagh two divisions were stationed under the command of Djemil Bey. He had placed his men so skilfully in the numerous fissures, ravines, and declivities of the mountain that they were enduring fairly well the terrific fire from the ships' guns.
Signals flashed among the fleet, and suddenly, at one stroke, every cannon stopped firing. This was the moment Djemil Bey was waiting for. Quickly he hurried to the observer's stand of the mountain artillery, which high above on Jonkbahir was stationed in the front line.
His surmise was right. There they came, the Anzacs, ascending the heights in broad storming columns. In good order so far as the difficulty of the ground permitted. Even the new Kitchener troops had learned much during their short period of training.
The artillery commander, trembling with excitement and eagerness for the fray, looked questioningly but vainly at Djemil Bey, whose orders had so far condemned him to inactivity.
Further waiting was exacted by that man of iron nerves. Now the attackers, climbing laboriously, were crowding closely together in the ravines and gullies, two thousand meters away; they drew nearer - to fifteen hundred metres, to a thousand. White stones visible only to the defenders, the other side being painted dark, marked for the Turks the exact distances from their lines.
At this moment the mountain artillery started its salvos; the machine guns began to crackle and snap; from the lines of riflemen a hail of bullets sped forth against the Anzacs. It was a scene of Death, of raging, frightful Death, mowing down all. Not a man of those that peopled the slope survived.
New troops stormed forward in dense masses - a broad front was impossible over the broken terrain of the ascended by athletic young officers overflowing with enthusiasm. Many of them perhaps had but recently left the benches of the colleges of Cambridge, Oxford, London, or Edinburgh.
The foremost ranks faltered before the heaped-up bodies of fallen comrades. Too late! Struck by the ceaseless hail of iron, hundreds rolled upon the ground. Those who followed, as soon as they came within range of the Turkish artillery and machine guns, suffered the same fate.
Fearful confusion resulted. The instinct for self-preservation gained the upper hand. First single individuals, then small groups, and finally great masses of the survivors, turned back. It was the signal for the Turkish lines everywhere to advance.
With bayonet and rifle stock the Ottoman horde stormed down the slope. The Anzacs suffered terrible losses. Only a few remained alive. Hundreds of unwounded prisoners fell into the hands of the Turks.
That night Liman Pasha assigned Mustafa Kemal, who had in many ways distinguished himself in the recent battles, to the command of the troops in the Anafarta sector. The general Turkish attack began on the morning of August 9th, and halted any new Anzac attempt to advance.
The enemy realized this only too soon, and changed his tactics. His next move was to attack on the line Kiretschtepe-Asmakdere. The only high ground he was able to hold here was the hill of Mestantepe, and that was hotly contested.
From the greater height of Ismailtepe Colonel Salahheddin threw a division against Mestantepe in a wild forward rush. The Turks were prevented from taking the whole hill by the numerous machine guns which had been set up there and by the guns of the fleet, but they pressed the enemy back a considerable distance.
The division pushed forward south of Asmakdere and pressed the enemy back close to the coast; the same thing occurred north of Mestantepe. By noon of the 9th the English everywhere except on Mestantepe had been crowded back to the coast.
The centre of the fighting in the days that followed was at Kiretschtepe. At that point the battalion of Gallipoli gendarmerie, led by the brave Captain Kadri Bey, was holding back constantly increasing superior forces. The reinforcements ordered up by Liman Pasha from the Asiatic side arrived on the evening of the 9th.
On the morning of the 10th Mustafa Kemal placed himself at the head of fresh troops and once more attacked the Anzacs west of Kodja Djemendagh. A bullet went through his coat and penetrated his watch, in which it became imbedded.
When shortly afterwards Liman Pasha arrived on the scene, Kemal Bey handed him the watch for a souvenir. The Marshal accepted the gift and responded by presenting to the Bey his own valuable watch.
All through that day the English brought up reinforcements. But to no avail! They had been decisively beaten back; and no later effort changed the situation.
Source: Source Records
of the Great War, Vol. III, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923
A "gutzer" was slang for a stroke of bad luck.
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