By early May 1915, efforts within the ANZAC beachhead were directed to consolidating the small area gained by the landing in April. The defended locality at Gaba Tepe had been one of the objectives of the 9th Infantry Battalion on 25 April but, because of the displacement of the landing area to the north, it had not been taken. The position, about 1800 metres south of the ANZAC right flank on Bolton’s Ridge, remained a serious threat. Observers there had good visibility of activities on land and of the ship-to-shore movements required to sustain the beachhead, and could adjust artillery fire on these targets.
Headquarters 1st Australian Division ordered a reconnaissance in force to be conducted against Gaba Tepe. Tasking for the mission made its way down the chain of command, through Headquarters 3rd Brigade to the 11th Battalion, where Captain Ray Leane’s C Company was detailed as the core element for the raid. Leane was ordered to attack the position, destroy defence material and any guns and assess the possibility of establishing a garrison there, supported by warships. The raiding force would comprise 2 officers and 98 infantrymen, four signaller an engineer demolition party of an officer and 10 sappers and medical support by the 11th Battalion doctor and six stretcher-bearers. In a repeat of the 25 April experience, the men would be towed in open boats from Anzac Cove by a destroyer, before being cast off and rowing ashore at first light. At the same time, a supporting party from the 10th Battalion would move south along the beach from the Australian perimeter to open a gap in the Turkish wire as a withdrawal route for the raiders.
Gaba Tepe, a promontory about 60 metres high, had been identified by the Turks as a likely allied objective and was well entrenched and heavily wired. Machine guns covered the beach at the foot of the headland. Both Leane and the engineer officer, Lieutenant George Thirkell, considered the task to be extremely difficult, perhaps impossible. The officers were able to observe Gaba Tepe from the ANZAC flank and didn't agree with the headquarters staff view that the position was only lightly defended. Consequently, both officers sought permission to call for volunteers for the operation. As a measure of the spirit amongst the Australians, despite the setbacks of the previous days, all men who paraded volunteered, greatly exceeding the numbers required. Priority was given to single men and preparations were made. H-Hour would be 0430 hrs on 4 May.
The force embarked at 0330 hrs and moved to a position about 450 metres from Gaba Tepe where the four boats were cast off and commenced rowing to the shore. All was quiet until the men began landing, when the Turks opened a heavy fire on the boats and on men on the beach. All who made it ashore took cover under a 4 metre high bank at the back of the beach. The force had landed on the north side of the promontory, inside the actual point of the headland. Not only were they receiving enfilade fire from a machine gun on the point, but soon the Turks began to adjust artillery fire from north of the ANZAC perimeter onto the beach. Reconnaissance showed that any attempt to rush the Turkish position would have to breach rows of barbed wire and that the raiders were quickly becoming outnumbered as Turkish reinforcements began to arrive.
Leane decided that he must withdraw to avoid destruction of the force. Preparing to use the planned route along the beach, through the gap cut in the wire by the supporting party, Leane sent 11 men ahead to cover the withdrawal of the wounded. The party was working its way along the beach when what appeared to be two command detonated explosions showered them with sand. When the dust settled another wire obstacle was discovered, barring escape in that direction. Leane decided to evacuate the wounded before any other action was taken. Under covering fire from the naval task-group now supporting the operation, and with artillery support from the ANZAC perimeter, a ship’s boat was brought in to the beach. The covering fire lifted to allow the loading of the wounded and the Turks, seeing the Red Cross flag displayed, also ceased fire while the wounded were gotten off.
Leane now decided that the only way to avoid capture was to get the rest of the force away by sea. After initial reluctance, the navy towed four boats in to extract the raiders. Under a heavy “danger close” covering barrage from the ships (the destroyer Colne alone fired some 250 four-inch shells in 15 minutes), the remainder of the force got off. A further three men who had been cut off on the beach were recovered later in the day.
The raid had failed, at a cost of eight killed and 16 wounded. Gaba Tepe remained a valuable Turkish artillery observation post for the rest of the campaign.
Article written by Rod Margetts
- who is a battlefield tour guide for Boronia Travel Centre.
Image Top Left:
Anzac Cove, from where the raid on Gaba Tepe was launched.
Image Middle Right:
Australian soldiers of the 11th Battalion crowd the deck of the River class destroyer HMS Usk
after the withdrawal form Gaba Tepe.
Image Bottom Left:
Troops being landed at Gaba Tepe under cover of a destroyer.