Stalemate At Suvla Bay

The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 196th installment in the series.  

August 6, 1915: Stalemate At Suvla Bay 

The repeated failure of Allied attacks against Turkish defensive positions at Cape Helles on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula in June and July 1915 convinced the Allied commander at Gallipoli, Sir Ian Hamilton, that a fresh approach was required to shake up the strategic situation. The result was the second amphibious assault of the campaign, with four new British divisions wading ashore at Suvla Bay, about 12 miles north of the original landing sites, in an attempt to outflank the enemy and roll up Turkish defenses from behind (below, looking north towards Suvla Bay from ANZAC). This offensive came tantalizingly close to achieving its objective, but in the end “a miss was as good as a mile,” and the Turks were able to rush forward reinforcements, ending in yet another stalemate.

By the beginning of August 1915, the opposing forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula were roughly evenly matched. The Ottoman Fifth Army, repeatedly reinforced since April, now consisted of sixteen divisions numbering 250,000 men, but about a third of these were deployed across the straits, guarding the Asiatic side, or further north at the peninsula’s narrowest point on the eastern end of the Gulf of Saros. At the main battlefields of Cape Helles and ANZAC, eleven Turkish divisions (many under strength following hard fighting) occupied the trenches or were held in reserve nearby, facing the nine Allied divisions of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force with around 150,000 troops. 

However by late summer fresh British troops were finally becoming available with the mobilization of the first divisions from “Kitchener’s New Army,” formed from hundreds of thousands of volunteers who responded to Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener’s patriotic call to duty beginning in late 1914. Kitchener agreed to send two of the new divisions, the 10th (Irish) and 11th (Northern), to Gallipoli to carry out the amphibious landing, as well as the 53rd (Welsh) and 54th (East Anglian Divisions) to reinforce them once on shore. Another New Army division, the 13th (Western), was already ashore at the ANZAC position. The other Allied forces on the peninsula would stage diversionary attacks to distract the Turks and tie down their forces during the landings. 

“Mechanical Death Run Amok”

The landings took the Turks by surprise: although the Ottoman and German commanders guessed a new amphibious assault was coming, they disagreed as to where it would fall, thanks in part to elaborate ruses by British intelligence agents. As a result Essat Pasha, commanding the Turkish III Corps in the center of the peninsula, believed it would hit further south near the promontory called Kabatepe, while Liman von Sanders, the German general commanding the Fifth Army, was convinced they would strike further north, near the town of Bulair on the Gulf of Saros.

Only one Turkish officer, 19th Division commander Mustafa Kemal (later Kemal Atatürk) correctly predicted that the Allies would land at Suvla Bay – but his colleagues dismissed the idea, arguing the Allies would never attack in an area with such strong natural defenses, with rugged hills looming over a wide, exposed coastal plain whose only feature was a shallow salt lake that was dry for most of the year. Consequently there were virtually no troops actually holding these wonderful defensive positions, with a thin covering force of just 1,500 Turks facing around 25,000 attackers in the first wave. 

Click to enlarge

The operation began at 2:20 pm on August 6, 1915 with a diversionary attack by the British 29th Division on the Turkish 10th Division at Cape Helles; for reasons that aren't clear, this "feint" snowballed into another actual attempt to capture Krithia on the hill range called Achi Baba. The British suffered thousands of casualties but continued the assault the following day with a fresh attack by the neighboring 42nd Division and the two French divisions against the Turkish 13th and 14th Divisions, again resulting in major casualties.

Meanwhile the ANZAC forces also staged diversionary attacks, beginning with an attack by the First Australian Division on the Turkish position called Lone Pine, near the southern tail of the Sari Bahr hill range, on the evening of August 6. Approaching via a tunnel secretly extended to within yards of the Turkish frontline, the Australians advanced about a thousand feet, but the attack ground to a halt after Essat Pasha sent the Turkish 5th Division to reinforce the 16th Division, then mount a counterattack. Over the next few days Lone Pine was the scene of incredibly fierce fighting, as described by William Tope, a soldier in the Australian First Division who sheltered behind the dead bodies of the first wave of attackers: 

It was about that spot where I got caught with a hail of bombs… and it was the pile of bodies there that sheltered me, otherwise I wouldn’t be here today… I thought the best thing would be for me to be down in this trench that had no men in it at all, where these bodies were, because I felt that the counterattack could come at any time. I’d hardly got into position before a positive avalanche of bombs fell, puncturing these bodies, and up on top you’d hear the air coming out of the ones up there. I think they were aiming for the bodies that they could see. I was sheltering behind them, and I was there for all that day and the next night… 

At the same time the British 13th Division and the combined New Zealand and Australian Division attacked first north and then east, up the slopes of the Sari Bahr hills, with the goal of reaching Hill 971 (above, New Zealand troops resting during the advance on Sari Bahr). These attacks served to tie down Turkish forces while the British 10th and 11th Divisions landed at Suvla Bay almost unopposed, from the evening of August 6 through the morning of the following day.

Amid some confusion (some brigades ended up landing on the wrong beaches) the British troops began advancing on both sides of the dry salt lake, with some crossing over the dried lakebed itself (below), but soon ran into stiffening resistance from the massively outnumbered but well-entrenched defenders in the hills above the plain. John Hargrave, a member of the British ambulance service, witnessed the advance from a ship just offshore: 

Puffs of smoke hung on the hills, and the shore was all wreathed in the smoke of rifle and machine-gun fire. A deadly conflict this—for one Turk on the hills was worth ten British down below on the Salt Lake. There was no glory. Here was Death, sure enough—Mechanical Death run amok—but where was the glory? Here was organised murder—but it was steel-cold! There was no hand-to-hand glory… The crack and crash was deafening, and it literally shook the air... it quivered like a jelly after each shot. 

Despite this the British had every chance of overwhelming the thinly-held Turkish positions here, clearing the way for an advance to the first day’s objective – the strategic hilltops of Kavak Tepe and Tekke Tepe, located just a few miles inland. From here they would be able to join forces with the ANZAC troops breaking out to advance up the Sari Bahr hills, capture the central heights of Hill 971, and proceed to the final objective of Mal Tepe on the other side of the peninsula. This would force the Turkish Fifth Army to withdraw before it was trapped, finally giving the Allies control of the Dardanelles and setting the stage for the conquest of Constantinople. 

Illustrated London News, via Illustrated First World War

But now disaster – or rather disastrous incompetence – struck. The British officer in charge of the Suvla Bay landings, Lieutenant-General Sir Frederick Stopford, had never commanded troops in combat before; he soon turned out to be one of the worst commanders of the war. After getting his two divisions ashore (he remained aboard his command yacht), instead of immediately pressing on to Kavak Tepe and Tekke Tepe, Stopford let the troops rest while supply teams finished unloading all their food, tents, mules, and other not-particularly-crucial items on shore.

As the men bathed in the sea and sunned themselves on the beach, precious hours passed, giving von Sanders a chance to rush two divisions (the 7th and 12th) south from Bulair to bolster the meager defensive force. On August 8 the British divisions gradually moved forward and captured one of the first defensive positions, called Chocolate Hill (below, British troops on Chocolate Hill), and on August 9-10 they were reinforced by the 53rd and 54th Divisions. One new arrival, John Gallishaw, later recalled the journey up to the front lines: “Under cover of darkness we moved away silently, until we came to the border of the Salt Lake. Here we extended, and crossed it in open order, then through three miles of knee high, prickly underbrush, to where our division was entrenched... From the beach to the firing line is not over four miles, but it is a ghastly four miles of graveyard.”

But it was already too late: 72 hours had passed and two more Turkish divisions, the 4th and 8th, had arrived from the southern part of the peninsula. In short, Stopford had frittered away the element of surprise for no good reason at all. His incompetence would cost thousands of lives. 

“Like Corn Before a Scythe” 

With the Suvla Bay landings inexplicably stalled, after its initial success on August 6 the ANZAC breakout ran into serious trouble in the days that followed, as the Turkish 5th, 9th, 16th, and 19th Divisions arrived and strengthened their defensive positions in the rough, broken terrain of the Sari Bahr hills. Nonetheless at dawn on August 7 the Australians continued to press the attack with an all-out assault on “The Nek,” a narrow ridge connecting two hilltops. The result was one of the bloodiest engagements of the Gallipoli campaign, as recalled by Lieutenant William Cameron, who saw the dismounted Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade charging the Turkish positions on foot: 

We saw them climb out and move forward about ten yards and lie flat. The second line did likewise ... As they rose to charge, the Turkish Machine Guns just poured out lead and our fellows went down like corn before a scythe. The distance to the enemy trench was less than 50 yards yet not one of those two lines got anywhere near it.

Things weren’t going much better elsewhere. Gerald Hurst, an officer with a battalion of Manchesters, described a futile assault on the Turkish positions at Cape Helles on August 7: “It was at once obvious that our guns had been unable to affect the strength and resisting power of the enemy's front line. Each advancing wave of the Manchesters was swept away by machine-gun fire. A few of them gallantly reached the Turkish trenches and fell there.” 

In fact the battle was only just beginning. By the morning of August 8 the Turks had created a very strong defensive position on top of the second tallest ridge in the Sari Bahr range, called Chunuk Bahr, which the ANZAC forces and British troops of the 13th Division had to capture for the rest of the plan to work. The New Zealand Brigade of the New Zealand and Australian Division carried out the main assault uphill against the Turkish positions and suffered severe casualties, but finally managed to dig in near the hilltops as reinforcements from the 13th Division began to arrive. One British officer, Aubrey Herbert, witnessed part of the battle from a distance: 

We saw our men in the growing light attack the Turks. It was a cruel and beautiful sight, for it was like a fight in fairyland; they went forward in parties through the beautiful light, with clouds crimsoning over them. Sometimes a tiny, gallant figure would be in front, then a puff would come and they would be lying still… Meanwhile, men were streaming up, through awful heat.

In the afternoon of August 8 a naval bombardment forced the Turks off the hilltops, which New Zealand, British, and Indian Gurkha troops now occupied. From here they could see the glinting surface of the Dardanelles and "The Narrows" on the other side of the peninsula; their goal was in sight. But they wouldn’t hold their hard-won prize for long: the Turks, fully aware of Chunuk Bahr’s strategic importance, were determined to get it back whatever the cost.

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On August 10, Mustafa Kemal (now in charge of several divisions) launched a furious counterattack by the Turkish 8th and 9th Divisions, supported by artillery on the nearby Hill 971. The attack culminated in a dramatic charge by the Turkish infantry, while British naval bombardment rained shells on the blood-soaked hilltop. Kemal later recalled:

Chonkbayir [Chunuk Bair] was turned into a kind of hell. From the sky came a downpour of shrapnel and iron. The heavy naval shells sank deep into the ground, then burst, opening huge cavities all around us. The whole of Chonkbayir was enveloped in thick smoke and fire. Everyone waited for what Fate would bring. I asked one commander where his troops were. He replied, “Here are my troops – those who lie dead around us.” 

The British and ANZAC units holding the hilltop were simply wiped out of existence by the Turkish artillery and repeated infantry charges. Herbert noted the incredible cost of the battle: “The N.Z. Infantry Brigade must have ceased to exist. Meanwhile the condition of the wounded is indescribable. They lie in the sand in rows upon rows, their faces caked with sand and blood… there is hardly any possibility of transporting them… Some unwounded men almost mad from thirst, cursing.”

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Sir Compton Mackenzie, an official observer with the British forces at Gallipoli, recorded similar impressions after the battle for Chunuk Bahr: “I went back outside the hospital, where there were many wounded lying. I stumbled upon poor A.C. (a schoolfellow), who had been wounded about 3 a.m. the day before, and had lain in the sun on the sand all the previous day… It was awful having to pass them. A lot of the men called out: “We are being murdered.” 

After achieving initial surprise, the British landings at Suvla Bay and the coordinated attack from ANZAC had once again resulted in stalemate, at a cost of 25,000 British casualties versus 20,000 for the Turks in just the period August 6-10 alone. Attacks and counterattacks would continue into late August, as both sides received reinforcements at Suvla Bay and ANZAC, (above, part of British 2nd Mounted Division forms up at Suvla on August 18; below, a New Zealand machine gunner at Sari Bahr in late August) – but there would be no significant changes in the frontline from now until the end of the Gallipoli campaign. 

The failure of the landings at Suvla Bay spelled not only doom for the Gallipoli campaign, but also the demise of any hope for a quick victory over the Central Powers. It was clear now that the Allied generals and politicians were out of ideas, and that the war would go on for years, spelling the end of the old way of life. Mackenzie recalled:

There was no vestige of hope left in my mind that the Suvla Landing could now succeed. I felt as if I had watched a system crash to pieces before my eyes, as if I had stood by the deathbed of an old order… The war would last now until we had all turned ourselves into Germans to win it. An absurd phrase went singing through my head. We have lost our amateur status to-night.

See the previous installment or all entries.

The Very Real Events That Inspired Game of Thrones's Red Wedding

Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham's After the Massacre of Glencoe
Peter Graham, Google Cultural Institute, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Ask any Game of Thrones fan to cite a few of the show's most shocking moments, and the so-called "Red Wedding" from season 3's "The Rains of Castamere" episode will likely be at the top of their list. The events that unfolded during the episode shocked fans because of their brutality, but what might be even more surprising to know is that the episode was based on very real events.

Author George R.R. Martin has said that the inspiration for the matrimonial bloodbath is based on two dark events in Scottish history: the Black Dinner of 1440 and 1692's Massacre of Glencoe. “No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse,” Martin told Entertainment Weekly in 2013. And he’s absolutely right. See for yourself.

The Massacre of Glencoe

The West Highland Way in 2005, view from the summit of the Devil's Staircase looking south over the east end of Glen Coe, towards Buachaille Etive Mòr with Creise and Meall a' Bhuiridh beyond
Colin Souza, Edited by Dave Souza, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

In 1691, all Scottish clans were called upon to renounce the deposed King of Scotland, James VII, and swear allegiance to King William of Orange (of William and Mary fame). The chief of each clan had until January 1, 1692, to provide a signed document swearing an oath to William. The Highland Clan MacDonald had two things working against them here. First of all, the Secretary of State, John Dalrymple, was a Lowlander who loathed Clan MacDonald. Secondly, Clan MacDonald had already sworn an oath to James VII and had to wait on him to send word that they were free to break that oath.

Unfortunately, it was December 28 before a messenger arrived with this all-important letter from the former king. That gave Maclain, the chief of the MacDonald clan, just three days to get the newly-signed oath to the Secretary of State.

Maclain was detained for days when he went through Inveraray, the town of the rival Clan Campbell, but still managed to deliver the oath, albeit several days late. The Secretary of State’s legal team wasn't interested in late documents. They rejected the MacDonalds's sworn allegiance to William, and set plans in place to cut the clan down, “root and branch.”

In late January or early February, 120 men under the command of Captain Robert Campbell arrived at the MacDonalds's in Glencoe, claiming to need shelter because a nearby fort was full. The MacDonalds offered their hospitality, as was custom, and the soldiers stayed there for nearly two weeks before Captain Drummond arrived with instructions to “put all to the sword under seventy.”

After playing cards with their victims and wishing them goodnight, the soldiers waited until the MacDonalds were asleep ... then murdered as many men as they could manage. In all, 38 people—some still in their beds—were killed. At least 40 women and children escaped, but fleeing into a blizzard blowing outside as their houses burned down meant that they all died of exposure.

The massacre was considered especially awful because it was “Slaughter Under Trust.” To this day, the door at Clachaig Inn in Glen Coe has a sign on the door that says "No hawkers or Campbells."

The Black Dinner

In November of 1440, the newly-appointed 6th Earl of Douglas, who was just 16, and his little brother David, were invited to join the 10-year-old King of Scotland, James II, for dinner at Edinburgh Castle. But it wasn’t the young King who had invited the Douglas brothers. The invitation had been issued by Sir William Crichton, Chancellor of Scotland, who feared that the Black Douglas (there was another clan called the Red Douglas) were growing too powerful.

As legend has it, the children were all getting along marvelously, enjoying food, entertainment and talking until the end of the dinner, when the head of a black bull was dropped on the table, symbolizing the death of the Black Douglas. The two young Douglases were dragged outside, given a mock trial, found guilty of high treason, and beheaded. It’s said that the Earl pleaded for his brother to be killed first so that the younger boy wouldn’t have to witness his older brother’s beheading.

Sir Walter Scott wrote this of the horrific event:

"Edinburgh Castle, toune and towre,
God grant thou sink for sin!
And that e'en for the black dinner
Earl Douglas gat therein."

This article has been updated for 2019.

15 Game of Thrones Products Every Fan Needs

Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke in Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan, HBO

Though Game of Thrones might be coming to its official end, that doesn’t mean that your fandom can’t—or won’t—carry on. Whether you’re a years-long defender of House Stark or have been rooting for House Targaryen since the beginning, there’s a candle, collectible pin, coffee mug, card game, and pretty much anything else you can imagine with your name (and preferred sigil) on it.

1. A Song of Ice and Fire Book Series; $46

Bantam's 'A Song of Ice and Fire' book series

Bantam, Amazon

If you’ve never read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the book series upon which the series is based, plenty more Westerosi drama awaits. And just because you’ve seen every episode of the series 10 times doesn’t mean you know which way the books will turn. (The TV show diverged from their narrative a long time ago—and dozens of the characters who have been killed off on your television screen are still alive and well in the books.) Plus, as Martin has yet to complete the series, you may just catch up in time for the newest book.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Map Marker Wine Stopper Set; $50

Nobody solves a problem like Tyrion Lannister … and his thought process usually includes copious amounts of wine (Dornish if you’ve got it). Something tells us you’re going need some vino yourself to get through the giant, hour-long hole left in your Sunday nights once Game of Thrones officially ends. Make sure you don’t let a drop of it go to waste by keeping one of these six wine stoppers—each one carved to represent the sigil of the most noble houses in the Seven Kingdoms—handy.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

3. Winterfell Coffee Mug; $25

If coffee is more your speed—we get it: the night is dark and full of terrors—this simple-yet-elegant Winterfell mug is an easy way to communicate to your co-workers why you’re typically a little bleary-eyed on Monday mornings.

Buy it: HBO Shop

4. Hodor Door Stop; $12

A 3D-printed Hodor door stop, inspired by 'Game of Thrones'

3D Cauldron, Amazon

An important part of being a Game of Thrones fan is accepting that showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have no problem killing off your favorite characters, often in brutal ways. One of the series’ most memorable deaths was that of Hodor, Bran Stark’s personal mode of transport, who we loved despite the fact that the only word he ever uttered for six seasons was “Hodor”—and who we loved even more when, in the final moments of his life, we learned why that was the case. Pay tribute to the gentle giant, and his backstory, with this 3D-printed door stop.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Tarot Card Deck; $25

A 'Game of Thrones' tarot card deck, from Chronicle Books

Chronicle Books, Amazon

Channel your inner Maggy the Frog and see what the future holds for you and your loved ones (your enemies, too, if the mood strikes you) with Chronicle Books’s gorgeously packaged tarot card deck. The tarot tradition and Game of Thrones mythology blend seamlessly together in this box of goodies, which includes an instruction book and illustrated cards featuring your favorite characters and most beloved scenes from the show.

Buy it: Amazon or Chronicle Books

6. Fire and Blood Candle; $12

Mad Queen or not, show that you still stand behind the Mother of Dragons by filling your home with this House Targaryen-inspired votive candle. Best of all: Just wait to see the look on the faces of your guests when they ask “Mmmm … what’s that smell?” If you’d prefer not to answer with “fire and blood—doesn’t it smell delicious?,” there are other scents available: one called "Moon of My Life My Sun and Stars," another called "Be a Dragon," and one inspired by the Iron Throne itself (which must smell like victory).

Buy it: HBO Shop

7. Clue: Game of Thrones; $50

Margaery Tyrell with the battle axe in Cersei’s bedchambers. Rewrite the rules—and brutal deaths—of Game of Thrones with this special edition of the classic board game, which tasks you with figuring out who murdered whom, using what weapon, and where the incident took place. A double-sided playing board lets you choose whether you want to set the game in The Red Keep or Meereen.

Buy it: HBO Shop or BoxLunch

8. Game of Thrones Monopoly; $24

'Game of Thrones Monopoly' game board

Hasbro, Amazon

Who wants to be the Lord or Lady of Winterfell when you can become the preeminent real estate mogul of all the Seven Kingdoms? This special-edition Monopoly board puts a distinctly Westerosian twist on the classic game, with silver tokens to represent the sigils of each of the main houses and a card holder that plays the series’ haunting score whenever you press it.

Buy it: Amazon or Best Buy

9. House Stark Hoodie; $60

If you really wanted to dress like a Stark, you’d have a master blacksmith on hand to help customize your armor—or at least turn your IKEA rug into a luxurious cape. If you’re far less crafty, there’s always this full-zip hoodie featuring an embroidered direwolf on the front and an outlined illustration of the same on the back. The minimalist design is a way to show your fandom in a way that, to the untrained eye, might just look like you’re a fan of wolves. But the rest of us will know better. And approve.

Buy it: ThinkGeek

10. Deluxe Iron Throne Funko Pop! Set; $130

Funko's Iron Throne Pop! set of five

Funko, HBO Shop

Though it seems unlikely that a few of these characters will ever sit on the Iron Throne (either because they’re dead or have gone mad), a fan can always hope. And buying them as part of this five-piece set is an easy way to collect them all. If you don’t see your favorite character here, Amazon has got plenty more squat-headed figures to choose from, including Arya, Brienne of Tarth, Rhaegal (poor Rhaegal), and Ghost (poor Ghost). If you ever happen upon a headless Ned Stark Pop!, grab it; this hard-to-find figure can sell for more than $2000 on eBay.

Buy it: HBO Shop

11. Iron Throne Bookend; $60

After devoting more than eight years of your life to seeing Game of Thrones all the way through, maybe it’s you who deserves the Iron Throne. You can’t sit on this 7.5-inch replica, the base of which features sigils from all the noble houses, but you can show off your fancy George R.R. Martin book collection … or all that dragon fan fiction you’ve been working on.

Buy it: Best Buy or the HBO Shop

12. Game of Thrones Music Box; $13

'Game of Thrones' music box

Shenzhen Youtang Trade Co., Amazon

Channel your inner Arya by psyching yourself up with the iconic Game of Thrones theme song whenever you feel the need to hear it with this hand-cranked music box.

Buy it: Amazon

13. Iron Throne Tankard; $70

Show your guests who's boss at your next dinner party—or raucous feast—as you take your place at the head of the table and guzzle your mead (or giant's milk—we don't judge) from this Iron Throne-themed tankard, completed with sword handle.

Buy it: HBO Shop

14. Game of Thrones Socks; $8

It gets cold in the North. Keep your tootsies warm with this six-pack of stylish ankle-cut socks.

Buy it: Target

15. Living Language Dothraki; $16

A copy of the Living Language Dothraki language course

Living Language, Amazon

By now, you've surely learned at least a handful of common Dothraki words and phrases. But if you wan to become fluent in the (fictional) language, this language course is one way to do it. Now: Finne zhavvorsa anni?

Buy it: Amazon

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