caribou

04 November 1915 – Caribou Hill

Above: Caribou Hill, scene of fighting today. 

In London at midnight this morning, Minister of War Lord Herbert Kitchener meets with Admiral Roger Keyes, a foremast advocate for renewed naval offensive action against the Dardanelles, to make a third landing at the Bulair Isthmus. But along with Admiral Sir Henry Jackson, the First Sea Lord, Keyes balks at the challenge of such an ambitious operation given the fiasco of the previous landings. Unable to accept defeat at the doorstep of Asia, Kitchener dismissed the advice of General Sir Charles Monro to evacuate the beachheads in a telegram yesterday afternoon.

I absolutely refuse to sign an order for evacuation, which I think would be greatest disaster and would condemn a large percentage of our men to death or imprisonment. Monro will be appointed to the command of the Salonika force.

British troops have been landing at Salonika for a month, but their belated arrival in response to Bulgaria’s attack on Serbia is still changing mobilization and deployment priorities. Kitchener told his protégé from the Indian Army, Lieutenant-General Sir William Birdwood, to take over for Munro, but Birdwood has not told Munro, choosing to lobby Kitchener in support of him instead. Following his meeting, Kitchener rescinds the order, and in the afternoon he boards a ship bound for Gallipoli to see the situation for himself.

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Left: Munro, whose plan to evacuate Gallipoli will succeed with minimal casualties. Right: ANZAC commander Birdwood

While these highest-level considerations and calculations take place, the campaign at Gallipoli remains a deadlock very much like the one on the Western Front — in fact, slightly worse. Although offensive actions have been suspended since August after the bloody, failed attacks that led to the dismissal of Sir Ian Hamilton as commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, a daily toll of shelling and sniping is still making the trenches a hellish, if small-scale, destroyer of men. Turkish control of the high ground prevents rest and recovery in a truly safe ‘rear area’ during the ten days on, ten days off cycle of front-line duty.

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Captain James Donnelly

Today, Captain James Donnelly leads a party of six soldiers from the Newfoundland Regiment to a small knoll in front of their line that Turkish sharpshooters have been using as a nocturnal sniping post. When they return to their usual haunt at the end of the day, the squad surprises them with rifle fire, and a reinforcing detachment drives off a Turkish patrol. Though small, this action wins decorations for four of the seven men on the little hill, including a Military Cross for Donnelly. In honor of their tactical success, the terrain feature is thereafter named ‘Caribou Hill.’ That such a small victory is so amply rewarded is another characteristic shared with the Western Front, where attrition strategy has transformed the most limited objectives into declared victories.

But the Turks are hardly the only enemy to contend with at Gallipoli. The fall weather is turning wet; on November 19th, a sudden microburst rainstorm turns the trenches into raging rivers and collapses the carefully-sandbagged walls, flooding the beach encampments and ruining field sanitation. Nine days later, a sharp nighttime drop in temperature freezes the fetid water at the bottom of the ruined scrapes, but puts nearly an entire company of the Newfoundlanders out of action with frostbite or illness. From the last day of September, when they took over the section of front line in the center of IX Corps, until the middle of December when they are withdrawn at one-quarter of their original strength, enteric diseases, dehydration, and malnutrition have accounted for more casualties than the enemy.

By then, however, Lord Kitchener will have seen the situation for himself and arrived at his own conclusions.

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A map of the Anzac beachhead. Caribou Hill is at the center top, south of Kiritch Tepe