Untitled Narrative Project By: Enrique Hernandez
Commander William Birdwood stood up straight on the steamship’s deck. Under the cover of night, the ANZAC troops hoped to land on the shores of Gallipoli without bloodshed, or at the very least not too much of it. In front of him was the sixth battalion of the Australian Imperial Force, ready to begin the attack on the Turkish land. Among them was Rupert Balfe, who paced slowly on the deck of the destroyer. So far, the Australians’ experience in the Dardanelles hadn’t been pleasant; upon first arriving, the foreigners realized that they had been left in the wrong place. When news had reached the lieutenant, he had a fit, exclaiming, “Tell the bloody fools that they’ve dropped us off 1,000 meters from the dang location!”
Now that they were nearing the correct drop-off point, they began to prepare for the invasion. Rifles were cleaned, greased, and loaded. The destroyer crews were loading the artillery shells that would soon support the waves of infantry crawling up the shores. Only now was a change of plans issued to the commander. The course that the troops were to take was changed, the new location was still yet to be known.
“We are to take a redoubt, but I don’t know where it is and I don’t think anyone else knows either, but in any case we’re to go ahead,” Birdwood informed the soldiers.
This wasn’t welcome news to the soldiers. Already tired, the delay would push the landing time back quite a bit, which was now projected to be in the early hours of the 25th of April. Although many groaned and voiced their opinions under their breath, none dared to consult Birdwood himself.
Rupert now stood with the other Australians, ready to land and take the new objective, Baby 700, a hill situated over 2,000 yards from the landing zone, Ari Burnu. Balfe was now feeling well enough to join the others in discussing the landing.
“Lads, by the time we’re done taking this hill, the LZ will be called Anzac Cove!”
“We’re all getting medals, mates, make sure to write to your mum about that!”
“You think an Arab’s ever seen an Aussie, mate? That’ll be the last thing they see!”
Rupert was engaging in the pep talk, but only halfheartedly. He wasn’t sure if they would remember this day a hundred years from now, or if he’d be awarded a medal for his valor and service, or if he would be the last thing a Turk saw.
The attack wouldn’t happen soon, though. Although the soldiers were ready, and the artillery was loaded, the invasion would wait. They still had to reach their destination, and from there they would set up the communications network with the other companies. Most of the soldiers believed they would be landbound by midday.
Far from the destroyers, a Turkish scout spotted the ships moving down the strait. He felt his heart race, seeing that many ships. A feeling of weakness shrouded him, reducing his courage to next to nothing. He overcame it quickly upon realizing that it was impossible that anyone from the ships could spot him from the small tower he rested in. Acting quickly, he began to prepare a report to send to his division’s headquarters.
“02:00. Fleet of destroyers incoming from the south. Likely British. Armed with artillery, carrying many soldiers. Act quickly. Artillery recommended.”
From his small nest along the strait, the report was sent to headquarters. It officially arrived at 02:30. While general orders were issued, specific commands were left to the lieutenants, and wouldn’t be given until there was a clearer image of the situation. However, all orders would have one thing in common: they would all defend the beaches from the invaders.
At first, the ANZAC troops believed they would meet no resistance. After all, they were allied with the British, the largest naval power in the world, next to Germany. How could they lose to the small forces in the Middle East? Almost every soldier had it in his mind that he was better than the Turkish defenders. They would be done here in no time, and the Russians to the north of the strait would have their trading route through the Mediterranean Sea back.
Then the artillery barrages came.
They started at night. Whistles filled the air, followed by an explosion which either hit a boat or sunk in the water. The destroyers were quick to react, turning to face the incoming artillery and delivering their own artillery shells to the defenders. Some of the ships were hit, and crew members scrambled to swim to other ships, or began making a break for the coast. The remaining destroyers deployed their rafts, sending waves of infantry to the shores of Gallipoli.
Rupert was deployed among the first of the infantrymen. He carried a Lewis machine gun, light enough to swim with but heavy enough to slow him down significantly. He watched his fellow soldiers swim to the coast, armed with light SMLE rifles. While he certainly envied their light loads, he knew that his Lewis would aid him and his comrades once he made it to shore.
The machine gun certainly did help Rupert. Upon reaching the shore, his fire team quickly assembled the bipod and loaded the awkward pan magazine; the Lewis gun was ready for action.
“Suppress the artillery, hurry!” was Rupert’s first order. He aimed at the artillery cannons. He didn’t need to actually hit the man loading the shells and firing the pin; that was a job for a man with a rifle. He simply needed to fire near the cannon. With hope, the sounds of bullets hitting metal and earth would make the operator timid and afraid. The riflemen would take advantage of this and begin firing at him. It was a dirty tactic; Rupert believed in an honorable war in which gentleman fought gentleman. This was the belief held in much of Europe. However, the advent of trenches, repeating rifles, and modern warfare made this a thing of the past.
Nearby, a machine-gunner ran out of ammo. He beckoned to Rupert for supplies, but he was helpless; the Lewis was chambered in 30-06, the Maxim was fitted for .308 rounds. This began Rupert’s next task; find a dead machine-gunner, and take his supplies. With luck, Rupert would find a box of .308 ammo nearby.
Rupert’s Lewis machine gun was handed to a member of the New Zealand Corps. His name was unknown to Rupert, and would remain that way. With his one task, he was sent away with high hopes.
Amid the constant explosions of artillery on either side of the front, Rupert sought protection in the thick smoke that created a screen between the ships and the ANZAC troops. The heat overwhelmed him; he couldn’t begin to imagine how it was closer to the water, where much of the misfired artillery landed. As the thought left his mind, it reentered immediately; there was one Maxim machine gun just near the coast. Next to it, a supply box, presumably filled with .308 rounds.
“Ace, mate!” he said to himself. His voice was lost in the shots of guns and explosions of shells, but he didn’t mind. He found his box of ammo, and in not much time.
He sprinted to the box and threw himself onto it. The owner wasn’t very far away; he lay prostrate next to the gun, dead from the first few shells.
“Poor digger. Good onya for trying, mate, I mean it. I promise I’ll take this ammo and make it worth your life. You’ve my word.”
With those few words said to the dead soldier, Rupert was ready to head back. He hefted the box in front of him, careful not to trip over corpses or rocks, which were indistinguishable from one another on the bloody shore.
Within the hour, Rupert was back to his original position. The fire team was all there, but none were up. Upon closer inspection, Rupert found large gashes in each of the men, and large markings in the rocks near them: they were a victim of the shrapnel shell.
He dropped the box of rounds onto the rocky ground carelessly; he wouldn’t need it. The Maxim weighed some 115 pounds loaded with its mandatory tripod. Compared to the Lewis’ 15 pound frame, it was a clear choice: he would make the retreat with the Lewis in hand until he made it to his allies.
In his supply bag, Rupert had about 5 pan magazines of 30-06 magazines. On his New Zealand friend, he found a few more. This would give him quite a while of continuous fire, and with the grace of God, the pan magazine would not become jammed. If that happened, Rupert’s best option would be to ditch the gun and flee.
Rupert began his crossing to the makeshift headquarters as soon as he had scavenged the remaining canteens from his fallen compatriots. The heat was now doing a number on him; his clothes were now dripping with sweat, and his breath was now shallow and rapid.
What Rupert hoped would be a quick crossing became a hellish march. It was a general belief that the Turks were underequipped and thus slow to move. Now, Rupert saw that many infantrymen were stationed at this strait. A few machine-gunnners, armed with the MG09, spotted Rupert from afar. The first few shots missed Rupert entirely, but they quickly became concentrated and more accurate. Rupert ducked behind a small boulder, and began spraying the machine gun nests with bullets. The MG09 had one major weakness; it operated on a water cooling system, meaning the barrel was covered with a water container. That kept the barrel from overheating, and if it was removed or damaged, the gun would be dangerous to operate. That’s exactly was Rupert wanted to make happen.
A few sprays of shots didn’t hit the water jacket, or the men firing it. It did, however, startle the Turks. A few ducked for cover, including the men pulling the trigger. Rupert continued this method of “spraying and praying” to hop from one cover to the next, until he was out of sight of the machine guns.
He was within the ANZAC front lines before the sun rose. When he arrived, he dropped his Lewis machine gun, and with aching arms he made it to the barracks to get rest.
The next morning, Commander Birdwood called in the troops to make a report about the initial landing. He had another man report for his own battalion, in hopes that he had good words to say about the attack.
“At 03:00 my battalion shoved off about 700 strong. The farthest any got was 500 yards and none came back from there. They all got mown down by machine gun fire. We lost 9 officers and nearly 400 men. The Turks shelled us, and the whole country… It caught fire. Many of our wounded… They were burnt alive. The roar of the flames drowned out the noise of the shrapnel. After the gorse was all burnt, the smoke nearly asphyxiated us. All this time our battalion was being cut up in the open. The telephone wires finally fused from the heat.”
Silence. Silence from Birdwood, from the troops, from the speaker. What Birdwood hoped would be a rallying report turned out to be one of grim news. Almost united in their actions, the troops turned away from the speaker and down to their breakfast. They ate in silence, in the face of the truth: they were sent to their deaths in the opposite side of the world.
No one had finished their meal yet, but everyone was up. Sirens now sounded throughout the camp, signaling an Ottoman counterattack. Rupert rushed to his barrack, but was greeted by one simple fact: his Lewis machine gun was left behind when he reached the camp. He was defenseless now in his simple uniform, his only weapon a knife.
The Turks had breached the defensive positions, and now stormed the camp. Rupert was quickly found in his barracks, searching for a weapon. He had retrieved a Colt M1911 from a friend’s drawer, but not ammo. Rupert now stood in the room alone with a Turk, completely helpless. His hand inched towards the small trench knife concealed in his clothing. He drew it quickly, balancing the handle in his nimble hands.
The knife didn’t do much. With an Arabic shout, the Turk rushed at him, his shoulder tucked in and the bayonet of his rifle fixed towards Rupert. Almost as if time were slowed down, Rupert watched as the blade plunged into his torso and became a part of him. The bayonet was lodged in Rupert’s chest long enough for him to recognize the rifle the Turk was wielding: it was an M1903 Mauser. Rupert wondered if his time spent recognizing Ottoman armaments would have been spent better doing other activities. That was the first of his many regrets. His next few were spent worrying about his family life. Would he be playing rugby with his schoolmates had he not volunteered for the Imperial Forces? Or would he be daydreaming below a tree, waiting for his mother to call him in for dinner? Regardless, here he was, with an Ottoman blade six inches inside of him.
Abruptly, time resumed as normal for Rupert. The blade shoved him to the ground, and was yanked out of his body harshly. The Turk then shouted Arabic, calling for his comrades to assist him in clearing out the barracks.
Rupert spent his last few moments studying the pool of blood collecting in front of him.