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The battle for Chunuk Bair

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The battle for Chunuk Bair

The Allied offensive that began on 6 August was part of General Ian Hamilton's plan to seize the Sari Bair range. The second phase of the plan, which involved New Zealand Infantry Brigade, was to have achieved its major objective - capturing the three key high points of Chunuk Bair, Hill Q and Hill 971 (Koja Chemen Tepe) - by dawn on 7 August.

Behind schedule

Big Table Top. Chunuk Bair can be seen on the skyline.

Big Table Top. Chunuk Bair can be seen on the skyline.

Williams Album (1915). Auckland War Memorial Museum – Tāmaki Paenga Hira. PH-ALB-212-p12-1.

The Infantry Brigade advanced up Chailak Dere and Sazli Beit Dere to capture Chunuk Bair during the night of 6-7 August. Earlier, their path had been opened by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles units and the Māori Contingent, which had captured key points (including Old No. 3 Outpost and Table Top).

However the attack had fallen behind schedule. The New Zealand Infantry were still a kilometre short of the summit when dawn broke on 7 August, sheltering at a position below Rhododendron Ridge that would become known as The Apex.

The fight for Chunuk Bair

In a mid-morning attack the Auckland Infantry Battalion suffered heavy casualties to reach the Pinnacle, 200m from the summit. When ordered to follow suit, the Wellington Infantry Battalion's commander Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone refused to sacrifice his men in a futile attempt, insisting that the attack be mounted that night.

So at 4am next morning the Wellington Infantry Battalion left the security of the Apex and headed for the summit. They passed through the remainder of the Auckland Infantry Battalion (who were still entrenched behind the pinnacle, the furthermost point which they had reached the previous day) and covered the final 300 m without a shot being fired.

They reached Chunuk Bair with all 760 men intact; the Turks having retired from the crest during the bombardment. The only resistance they met with was a solitary machine gun post where its occupants were asleep. From the crest, Lieutenant-Colonel Malone and his men could look down on the Dardanelles, the first Allied troops to do so since the landings in April. It would not be for long, however, for the enemy would soon make their return.

The men of the Wellington Infantry Battalion frantically entrenched themselves on the crest and its forward slope, but by 5am they were involved in intense firefight against the hordes of Turkish opposition who had come to take back Chunuk Bair.

The Turkish counterattack

Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone commanded the Wellington Battalion at Gallipoli. He was criticised for refusing to send his men to fight in daylight, but captured Chunuk Bair before dawn the next day.

Lieutenant-Colonel William Malone commanded the Wellington Battalion at Gallipoli. He was criticised for refusing to send his men to fight in daylight, but captured Chunuk Bair before dawn the next day.

Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira.

From the terrific Turkish attacks which ensued, it was quite evident that the Turks were in great strength in the vicinity. It shows how fortunate the Wellington Infantry Battalion were to stumble in the dark into the only gap that had been left in the Turkish line.

Hundreds of these Wellingtons would be killed during the next few hours in a most gallant but forlorn attempt to hold the crest. Of the 760 soldiers who made it to the summit on the morning of 8 August, only 70 were still standing by the end of the day.

The battalion's valiant stand is the stuff that movies are made of and is detailed in numerous historical publications about the campaign.

A sprinkling of Māori were in the Wellington Infantry Battalion, including 26-year-old Lance corporal William M. Woods and 24-year-old Lieutenant Thomas (Hami) Grace, both of whom were killed at Chunuk Bair. The Māori Contingent were also brought up to the Apex to try and relieve the Wellingtons.

Their story of how they fared below Chunuk Bair is another tale altogether.

The loss of Chunuk Bair

The Otago Infantry Battalion and the Wellington Mounted Rifles relieved the Wellington Infantry Battalion during the night of 8 August only to face a similar trial all through the next day. They were replaced during the night of 9 August by two British battalions, which yielded almost immediately, to a massive Turkish counterattack launched by their leader, Mustafa Kemal.

Chunuk Bair was lost, but the New Zealanders stopped the Turkish flood down the seaward slopes of the hill. The Apex was held until the end of the campaign.

Cite this article

Soutar, Monty. The battle for Chunuk Bair. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 16 February 2016. Updated: 16 February 2016.

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