In the early hours of this day in 1915 the Wellington battalion under Col William George Malone took Chunuk Bair, the highest point reached by the allied forces during the Gallipoli campaign. The previous day Malone had refused to advance up Rhododendron Ridge after the Aucklanders had just taken over three hundred casualties in 20 minutes attempting to make the attack under concentrated machinegun fire.
He made his attack under cover of darkness without casualties.
Under Malones leadership they held the crest under constant enfilade machinegun fire and repeated assaults which they threw back with bombs, bullets and the bayonet. Withdrawing from the crest didn’t occur to them. In the late afternoon when the fighting died down Malone stood up to survey the area and was killed by a shell from a Royal Navy destroyer. The claim that it was “either a navy destroyer or New Zealand artillery” became popular later and this has more recently morphed into “missdirected New Zealand artillery”. I’m not a fan of revisionism and my source is one of the few Wellingtons who survived Chunuk. “I saw the destroyer swing about then fire.”
That evening they were relieved by mixed troops mainly from the New Zealand Brigade under Col Meldrum. This force withstood more determined Turkish attacks all the follwing day and were finally relieved by two British battalions. The Turks threw them off 20 minutes later, routing the British who did not halt their flight untill New Zealand machineguns encourged them to stop moving down the hill.
Few if any of the Wellington wounded left on Chunuk Bair seem to have survived the Turk reocupation. During the entire campaign just over 20 New Zealanders were taken prisoner by the Turks, all had been incapacitated by their wounds. It is resonable to expect that of 700 men a high proportion of wounded would have been alive when the hill was retaken.
Of the 700 who took and held the feature reports are conflicted as to how many survived. Multiple sources number 79 has having not been wounded but none of these list any wounded. Other sources detail 79 as having come down the hill with only 11 unwounded. Another source puts the numbers as 760 men of whom 711 became casualties.
Either way the unit was destroyed.
The plan of used for this attack was in fact one sugested by Malone months before. He was horrified to see it put into action after strong Turkish forces had been moved into the area.
The landings at Suvla in support of the New Zealand attack were repeat of the first ANZAC landings. A bloody shambles. Officers without direct orders would not advance their troops but many walked forward to survey the area unmolested only to have to fight for these same places weeks later against dug in enemy.
The Australian attacks on Lone Pine and The Nek designed to draw off Turk forces were carried out with the usual Australian reluctance for a brawl with one commander excaliming his soldiers did not make diversionary attacks. They too suffered massive casualties and won 7 Victoria Crosses.
Of the New Zealand attack Cpl Cyril Royston Gyton Bassett (sig) was awarded the VC for his efforts in running a telephone line to Malones position and repeatedly traveling up and down the exposed Rododendron Ridge to repair the line.
Without his efforts Malone would have missed out on being told that the British were drinking tea and the congratulations for his “Australian” troops taking Chunuk Bair.
Bassett later served during WWII reaching the rank of Colonel. He is buried in Auckland with his wife.
Malone was officially held responsible for the failure of the August campaign with it being claimed he had placed his trench in an untenable position on the reverse slope of Chunuk Bair. This is not confusion or missunderstanding. It is a lie. The trenchs are still there. Waist deep on the top of the crest for all to see. It is also further claimed in many official histories that two Ghurka officers were the first to see the Dardanelles. Which seems unlikely since there were no Ghurkas in the Wellington battalion.
Many requests have been made for Malone to recieve a decoration for his leadership. The most recent reside with Helen Clark and has done so for a number of years. No decision is expected at this time.
Chunuk Bair – 8th August is Corps Day for the Wellington Regiment, now 7th Wellington (City of Wellingtons Own) and Hawkes Bay Batalion Group. All other RNZIR batalions observe ANZAC Day (25th April) as Corps Day. 7 Battalion retains the dress distinctions of the NZ Rifle Brigade with an 8 pointed black star behind the beret badge and individual patches for each company worn on the shoulder of service dress. Bravo Coy (Welligntons rifle company) has a black square.
South Africa 1900-02
Landing at ANZAC
France and Flanders 1916-18
Sambre (Le Quesnoy)
Note for US readers: “Regiment” & “Battalion” are interchangeable. It refers to a unit of battailion size (1,000 when they left home) but retains a regimental identity.