On 6 August 2015, Australia will commemorate the centenary of the August Offensive, pausing to reflect on the entire Gallipoli campaign and, particularly, the sacrifice of those Anzacs at the battles of Lone Pine and the Nek.
With the stalling of the British and French operations at Helles, the commander in chief, General Sir Ian Hamilton, began to cast around for a place to mount another offensive. The northern sector of the Anzac position, where the defences were more open, was chosen. Simultaneously, a British landing would take place at Suvla Bay to the north.
The assault would proceed from the Anzac positions up to the Sari Bair ridge, which included the three high points of Chunuk Bair, Hill 971 and Hill Q. After taking these heights, the troops were to move along the ridge towards the original Anzac positions. A simultaneous attack from Anzac would threaten the Turkish positions on Baby 700, Battleship Hill and the Nek from two directions. When these pincers closed, the Allies would control Sari Bair and could use it as base to mount an assault on the Narrows.
The operation commenced on the night of 6 August 1915. To support the assault on the heights, diversionary attacks were made at Quinn’s Post and Lone Pine. The Lone Pine attack on 6 August by 1st Brigade reached the Turkish lines to find that they were covered in logs and earth. Savage fighting took place in the trenches, costing over 2000 lives. Seven Victoria Crosses would eventually be awarded during this action – only nine Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross during the entire Gallipoli campaign. As a feint it was unsuccessful.
The main assault soon ran into trouble. The confusion of manoeuvring in darkness over extremely difficult terrain with poor maps caused the assault to fall behind schedule. Some gains were made and Chunuk Bair nearly reached, but the troops were exhausted by their efforts. Attacking from Anzac, the Australian 4th Brigade, intended to take Hill 971, became hopelessly lost in the difficult terrain and did not reach their objectives. The assault was renewed on 8 August. Hill Q and Chunuk Bair were occupied by New Zealand and British troops, but the gains could not be consolidated and both features were regained by the Turks and they continued to hold the ridge.
An attack by Light Horse, fighting as infantry, was planned at the Nek. It was to be coordinated with an attack from the ridge and covered by naval gunfire. With the reverses at Chunuk Bair and Hill Q, the attack from the ridge failed to materialise. Nevertheless, it was hoped that a diversion here would draw the attention of the Turkish forces from the assault on the ridge, so the Light Horse charged. The naval gunfire lifted early. With no cover at all the Australians were mowed down ‘like corn before a scythe’. Four times the Light Horse went over, acts of futility that cost 234 dead.
Further north at Suvla the assault had also failed to achieve its objective and the August offensive ground to a halt. Its aims were unrealised, although the perimeter had been expanded considerably with the occupation of Suvla and the expansion of Anzac. On 21 August, an attack was put in at Hill 60 to improve communications between Anzac and Suvla. This attack, and a later one on 27 August, was unsuccessful and the casualties heavy. It was the last Allied offensive on Gallipoli. Extract with permission from Richard Pelvin’s book ANZAC: An illustrated history 1914–18, available from Hardie Grant Publishers.