Brothers-In-Arms: Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the 1st Anzac Day and The 3rd Battle of Krithia
At the outbreak of the Great War in August 1914, the Sikhs formed the largest single community in the Indian Expeditionary Force; they were also the only Indian community to fight in the Expeditionary Forces of Canada and Australia. Anzac Day marks a seminal moment in Australia and New Zealand’s coming of age histories – as with Canada’s baptism of fire in Flanders Fields- Sikh regiments were there, fighting far from home, as friends in need.
On April 25, 1915, an Allied force of five (5) infantry divisions; 4 British and 1 French, landed on the southern tip of Turkey’s Gallipoli peninsula. Commanded by General Sir Ian Hamilton, their objective was to fight their way through enemy positions, all the way to Istanbul, in order to take Germany’s key ally out of the war. Amongst this attacking force were 15,000 Indian infantry and artillery men. The plan, originally conceived earlier in 1915 as a diversion to ease pressure on the Russian forces in the Caucasus, originally accounted for diverting two (2) Turkish divisions. But by the time of the landings, both the plan and the challenge had burgeoned into an exercise in futility, as the Turks had increased their strength to six (6) divisions. Not only was the Allied attacking force inferior in numbers, the situation on the ground now favoured the Turks, who were by now well dug in on the high ground. And so, the stage was set for one of the most ill-fated campaigns of World War 1; in the disaster that would follow nearly 25,000 British and Irish troops, over 7,200 of the Australian units, more than 2,300 of New Zealand’s forces, and at least 1,500 members of the Indian Army would be lost in one of Turkey’s greatest victories of the war.
During the campaign, Sir Ian Hamilton ordered a general attack to consolidate the Allied line, which later became known as the 3rd Battle of Krithia. The 14th Sikh Infantry regiment, which constituted part of 29 Indian Brigade, was fighting on the left flank of the British line and assigned to a frontage of about eight hundred yards of the allied front line; which lay astride a ravine in which the high ground was defended by a series of Turkish trenches J10, J11, J12 and J13. The ravine was about seventy-five yards wide and forty to fifty feet deep, the lower portion being covered with low scrub, sloping gradually upward and eastward to the crest line, about two hundred yards away. There was also every possibility of Turkish machine guns being hidden in positions on the sides commanding the approaches up the gully.
The Indian Brigade was ordered to attack in two waves. The first wave was to capture J10 and consolidate its position there, while the second wave, starting fifteen minutes later, was to pass through to capture J11 and J12 and then move on up to J13 a trench thought to be incomplete and thus lightly fortified. However, a shortage in shells had limited British artillery bombardments, allowing the Turks to establish this higher entrenchment in relative safety. Half of the 14th Sikhs were in the first wave and the other half being in the second. The following is the account of the events that followed the orders to go, ‘Over the Top'; written by Lieut. R.A. Savory of No 4 Company 14th Sikhs, who lived to tell the tale because of the gallant actions of a young Sikh that day.
“On 3rd June, we received orders for general assault all along the line next day. The orders were short and clear. At 11 am on 4th June all the guns were to bombard the enemy’s front-line trenches for twenty minutes. Then for ten minutes they were to stop while the infantry were to cheer and wave their bayonets. The object of this was to persuade the enemy to man their parapets. Then the bombardment was to come down again. At noon, we were to advance. It all sounded simple enough. The 14th Sikhs were to attack astride the Gully Ravine.
“The 4th of June was a beautiful summer day. Our guns started registering at 8 am and even before the bombardment began it must have been clear to the enemy that something was about to happen. “It was now 11.30 am and time for the cheering to start; but the noise was so great that we could hardly hear it even in our own trench. And then-twelve noon – blew the whistle – and we were away. From that moment, I lost all control of the fighting. The roar of musketry drowned every other sound, except that of the guns. To try to give an order was useless. The nearest man was only a yard or two away but I couldn’t see him. Soon I found myself running on alone, except for my little bugler, a young, handsome boy, just out of his teens, who came paddling along behind me to act as a runner and carry messages. Poor little chap.
“During the first few minutes, I was knocked out, lying on the parapet with two Turks using my body as a rest over which to shoot at our second line coming forward. When I fully recovered consciousness, the Turks had gone. I looked around and saw my little bugler lying dead, brutally mutilated. I could see no one else, stumbled back as best I could, my head was bleeding and I was dazed and then, Udai Singh, a great burly Sikh with a fair beard who was one of our battalion wrestlers, came out of the reserve trenches, picked me up, slung me over his shoulder, and brought me to safety; and all the time we were being shot at.”
In charging the trenches, an action that became known as the 3rd Battle of Krithia, the 14th Sikhs lost 80% of their battalion; three hundred and seventy-one officers and men killed or wounded. Writing to the Commander-in-Chief in India a few weeks after the event, General Sir Ian Hamilton paid tribute to the heroism of all ranks.
“In the highest sense of the word extreme gallantry has been shown by this fine Battalion… In spite of the tremendous losses there was not a sign of wavering all day. Not an inch of ground gained was given up and not a single straggler came back. The ends of the enemy’s trenches leading into the ravine were found to be blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the enemy who died fighting at close quarters, and the glacis slope was thickly dotted with the bodies of these fine soldiers all lying on their faces as they fell in their steady advance on the enemy. The history of the Sikhs affords many instances of their value as soldiers, but it may be safely asserted that nothing finer than the grim valour and steady discipline displayed by them on the 4th June has ever been done by soldiers of the Khalsa. Their devotion to duty and their splendid loyalty to their orders and to their leaders make a record their nation should look back upon with pride for many generations.”
During our November 2014 Public Lecture at Simon Fraser University, Major Corrigan ex-Gurkha officer made clear the level of professionalism of the Sikhs and Gurkha’s in Gallipoli.
“At times, they were the only ones that knew what they were doing.” reported the good major. “Not only did they know what they were doing, they had the strength of will to carry out an against all odds action – it is clear these were men of infinite courage. Losing most of their battalion was always on the cards yet they still did it – facing forward not one turned their back on their duty and comrades, rushing onwards they succeeded in taking the trenches.”
Charging uphill, taking on well entrenched forces, as the 14ths Sikhs did, were either very brave or foolhardy actions. Were these then the actions of blind servitude to the British – were these men fools fighting towards their own subjugation? It’s hard to reconcile the basis of these epic actions as those borne of such cowering temperaments. These men stood proud on the shoulders of other great men that had gone before them – the 14th Sikhs traced their bloodlines to the glorious Khalsa Forces of the Sikh Kingdom of Punjab, and had won the honour to be called “King George’s Own” 14th Sikhs. They fought to do their Duty to the Crown, for the Honour of their regiment and the Izzat of the Punjabi people.
The following words are cited from an account given by Subedar (Indian Major) Sardar Narain Singh of the 14th Sikhs, who received six bullet wounds, while engaged in the action at Gallipoli, from which he recovered. He says that the vision of Guru Gobind Singh appeared before the Sikh soldiers just as the bugle sounded “March” and they brandished their bayonets. He declares that he cannot explain in words ‘”The spirit this bold sight infused in us. It emboldened us to march on, piercing through the abdomens of the enemy, unmindful of the havoc being wrought by the horrid machine gun. We shouted, ‘Sat Sri Akal’ (“God is timeless”, the battle cry of the Sikhs), and chanted the Shabads of Halla (Hymns of Attack) as if ours was a nuptial procession. Those among us who fell wounded or dead, we minded never, as the only thought before us was devotion to the Guru, who was so omnipresent in the march, and adherence to [the] Government.”
Managing Director Indus Media Foundation
Curator Duty, Honour & Izzat
History Of The XIV Ferozepore Sikhs (1 Sikh IR) During The Gallipoli Campaign, 1915-16
The Centenary year of the GALLIPOLI Campaign was recently celebrated! Having been commissioned into 1st Battalion, The Sikh Regiment, formerly XIV Ferozepore Sikhs, I am historically conversant with this remarkable campaign in which my paltan (regiment) participated. It is indeed a great honour, to belong to the “Bravest of the Brave” – 1 Sikh.
GALLIPOLI: (KALLIPOLIS or “beautiful city” in Greek and GELIBOLU in Turkish)
The Gallipoli Peninsula is located on the European part of Turkey with the Aegean Sea to the West and the Dardanelles straights to the East. The peninsula is and was critical to controlling the trade routes between the Mediterranean and Black Sea’s. This brief on the campaign from the 14th (XIV Ferozepore) Sikhs’ operational point of view, is as follows:
Background. To put pressure on the Caucasus Front, the Russian’s requested the Allies to capture Gallipoli and gain the strategic advantage of capturing Constantinople (Istanbul). Lord Kitchener was not in favor of moving any troops from the Western front and thereby, initially, a Naval task force was planned. On April 25, 1915, a task force of British and French Forces landed at various points on the peninsula, but not all landings were objective oriented and not many gains were registered. Since there was little or no exploitation on the part of the Allies after the landings, the Turks rushed reinforcements in. For the next eight months both sides suffered heavy casualties with little territorial gains to show for them. Ultimately the ANZAC Forces withdrew on December 19, 1915 and the British Forces on January 9, 2016. So, ended the bloody campaign in which 141,113 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded along with 195,000 Turkish casualties. The principal gains from this campaign, besides gaining experience in sea borne landings and trench warfare, was the emergence of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk from a commoner to a war lord, which represented a defining moment in Turkey’s history
Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF). Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State appointed Gen Sir Ian Hamilton as commander of the MEF (Mediterranean Expeditionary Force) to carry out the mission to occupy the Gallipoli Peninsula. The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under Lt Gen William Birdwood along with 29th British Division (Maj Gen B. Delisle); the Royal Naval Division and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps constituted a force of five divisions within the MEF. The 29th Indian (29 Indian) Brigade, then part of 10 Indian Division, protecting the Suez Canal was earmarked as a reserve for the MEF. The 14th Sikh Infantry Regiment (XIV Ferozepur Sikhs), being at that time, one of the battalions within 29 Indian Brigade.
Introduction: The 14th Sikhs were initially stationed at LAAM KI LARAI, then located on the North-West Frontier, in what is now Pakistan. Upon receipt of orders for overseas operations the 14th Sikhs concentrated at Karachi by the end of November 1914, and reached the Suez Canal by December 1914 as part of 29 Indian Brigade. For the next seven months, the 14th Sikhs helped secure the Suez Canal from sabotage to keep the vital sea route open. On April 30th, orders were received to move to Gallipoli; the regiment boarded the DUNLUCE CASTLE for Cape Helles and landed at “V” Beach on May 3rd, 1915 as part of 29 Indian Brigade. The other units of the brigade were the 11/6 GORKHA Rifles, along with the 69th and 89th PUNJAB Infantry regiments; four battalions in all. 29 Brigade was placed on the left of the French Contingent.
Second Battle of KRITHIA (May 15, 1915).
On 06 May, 87 Brigade went into attack against the Turkish trenches and by 08 May had managed to advance 600 yards with heavy casualties.
On 09 May 29 Indian Brigade was moved up to relieve 87 Brigade. 11/6 GORKHAS were to advance on the extreme left astride the Gurkha Bluff and 89 PUNJAB on the right of the Gully Ravine with the 14th Sikhs in reserve.
Between 9 and 11 May some headway was made in the area. 14th Sikhs were then asked to take over the area previously held by 89 PUNJAB. The 14th Sikhs made determined efforts, resulting in Captain Channer and Major Swinley being wounded and Lieutenant Spankie being killed.
On 15 May 1915, 69 and 89 PUNJABI’s were withdrawn due to the presence of Muslim troops on the Turkish side and were replaced by 1st LANCASHIRE Fusiliers and 1st Royal FUSILIERS. The plan that evolved was to “inch forward”. The process was to dig a forward line of defense’s over two nights and occupy it on the third night. This process continued until 22 May with some success, until the Turks caught on. In one such event Captain Engledue, who was commanding B Coy, 14th Sikhs noticed that the trenches dug on the flank of the ROYAL FUSILIERS were occupied by the enemy. Captain Engledue attacked these trenches and evicted the Turks. A “Special Thank You”, was conveyed to the 14th Sikhs by the Commanding Officer of the Royal Fusiliers. The Royal Fusiliers would later again serve with 14th Sikhs in the Khyber Pass and presented to them a silver grenade with the inscription ” In Memory of Gallipoli & Khyber Pass”. Most Officers will remember this piece of exquisite silver on display in the Officers Mess of the 4th Mechanized Infantry regiment. (4 Mech Inf).
By the end of May 27th, 1915, 29 Brigade had covered some 800 yards, with an equal frontage.
The deployment was as follows:
14th Sikhs: Astride Gully Ravine, being the right most battalion of 29 Brigade, with the 4th Worcestershire Regiment of 88 Brigade on its right flank.
Royal Fusiliers: Center of the Brigade astride the Gully Spur.
1/6th Gorkha (Gurkha) Rifles: Left most battalion, bordering the Aegean Sea astride the cliff.
Royal Inniskilling Regiment: Brigade Reserve.
Third Battle of KRITHIA (3-5 Jun 1915)
The Terrain. The Gully Spur was elevated with a good all-around view and sloped NE towards the Turks. The Turkish lines of Trenches, J-10 and J-11, were astride the Spur. The Gully Ravine was 75 yards wide and 40-50 feet deep. The spur fell deeply into the ravine. The spur was higher than the right flank across the ravine. The right flank sloped Northwards and Eastwards to the crest 200 yards away.
> The Enemy. The main line of defense of the Turks was line J-10 and J-11. There were smaller lines of trenches astride the Gully ravine. Machine guns (MGS) were sighted covering the approaches up the ravine and fire from J-10 and J-11 could sweep the floor of the Gully ravine.
Troops to Task: 04 Jun 15.
> Wave-I. Objective J-10. Troops: Half 11/6 GR Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and B & D Company’s (Coys), 14th Sikhs.
> Wave-II. Objective J-11. Troops: Half each 11/6 GR, 14th Sikhs and Inniskilling Fusiliers.
> Reserve: Balance, Inniskilling Fusiliers.
> The Plan. the plan and time slots were as follows:
> 08 Am to 11:30 AM Artillery Shelling of Turkish Defenses.
> 10 mins pause at 11:30 Am.
> 11:40 to 12:00 PM Arty Shelling.
> 12:00 PM Artillery fire adds range and Wave-I attacks in the wake of artillery fire.
> 12:15 Pm Wave-II attacks.
> The Role of 14th Sikhs in the Plan. (Under the command of Col PC Palin, Co 14th Sikhs)
> B Coy. Work up the ravine on the left flank and assist Lancashire Fusiliers on J-10.
> D Coy. Clear the right flank of the Ravine and maintain no gap with 88 Brigade (Bde).
> A Coy in Wave -II On the right flank.
> C Coy in Wave-II in the ravine.
> Two machine guns (2 x MGS) supporting 14th Sikhs, not to move up till capture of J-10.
The Sequence of Conduct.
> Lancashire Fusiliers (LF)- mowed down by Turk fire, make no progress.
> 11/6 GR made some progress on Left flank but withdrawn in consonance with LF ops.
> D Coy 14th Sikhs. Lt Col Fowle maintained line with 88 Bde on his Right flank and encountered light opposition. However, MGS fire from the Spur caused casualties. Lt Col Fowle was killed and Lt R.A. Savory wounded. B Coy managed to skillfully capture a line of Turkish trenches and hold them till withdrawn on 05 June, in consideration of the overall situation. Here, Sepoy Udai Singh leapt under crippling MMG fire to carry Lt Savory back to safety. This was the beginning of a long association between the families of Lt Savory and Udai Singh.
> B Coy. encountered Wire Obstacle. Havildar Maggar Singh leaped over the wire and his entire section followed to a man. Both officers of B Coy, including Lt Col Jacques, were killed.
Wave-II (A & C and HQ Coys-up Gully Ravine)
> Col Palin realizing that no progress was possible till J-10/J-11 were captured, seized a spur south of J-10. Here, 14th Sikhs suffered heavy casualties while capturing and holding the spur. Captain McRae, Lieutenant Creman (Adjutant) and Lt Meade (QM) were all killed. The un-wounded strength that was available at the Spur were Captain Engledue, Jemadar Narain Singh and 30 other ranks (OR). But they continued to hold the spur under intense and accurate fire. The brigade made another push in the late afternoon of 4 Jun 15, but with little success. By late evening Capt. Engledue was down to 12 men when he was ordered to withdraw.
> The remnants of the 14th Sikhs collected in the original trenches from where they were launched.
> Lt Mathews of the MGS Platoon reported that a working condition MGS had been left behind during the withdrawal. He and a party of six set out to retrieve the gun, all but one died in retrieving the weapon.
Casualties. On 04 June 1915, all told 514 Officers and Men of the 14th (XIV Ferozepore) Sikhs went into battle and in that day’s battle the paltan suffered 371 causalities. Eighty-Two (82%) percent of the strength that went into attack were casualties. Of the fifteen (15) officers that went into battle only Col PC Palin (CO), Captain Engledue (B Coy Commander) and Lieutenant Cursetjee (RMO) were not wounded. The remaining officers were either killed or wounded. On 05 June 15 morning the strength available to the CO was, British Officers-2; Indian Officers-2 and 79 OR.
In this Battle, the 14th Sikhs had lost 371 killed/wounded this being the highest sacrifice of Sikh troops, alongside the Battle at SARAGARHI (12 Sep 1897). ***
Although Gen Hamilton was neither able to achieve the assured victory envisaged nor was he able to beat back the frontal attacks he was full of admiration for the 14th Sikhs. He was to observe:
“IN THE HIGHEST SENSE OF THE WORD. EXTREME GALLANTRY HAS BEEN SHOWN BY THIS FINE BATTALION… IN SPITE OF THEIR TREMENDOUS LOSSES THERE WAS NO SIGN OF WAVERING ALL DAY. NOT AN INCH OF GROUND GAINED WAS GIVEN UP AND NOT A SINGLE STRAGGLER CAME BACK. THE ENDS OF THE ENEMY TRENCHES WERE FOUND TO BE BLOCKED WITH THE BODIES OF THE SIKHS AND OF THE ENEMY WHO DIED FIGHTING AT CLOSE QUARTERS. THE GLACIS SLOPE IS THICKLY STREWN WITH THE BODIES OF THESE FINE SOLDIERS ALL LYING ON THEIR FACES AS THEY FELL IN THEIR STEADY ADVANCE ON THE ENEMY.”
Sir Ian Hamilton went on to say…
“THE HISTORY OF THE SIKHS AFFORDS MANY INSTANCES OF THEIR VALUE AS SOLDIERS, BUT IT MAY BE SAFELY ASSERTED THAT NOTHING FINER THAN THE GRIM VALOUR AND STEADY DISCIPLINE DISPLAYED BY THEM ON 04 JUNE 1915 HAS EVER BEEN DONE BY THE SOLDIERS OF THE KHALSA. THEIR DEVOTION TO DUTY AND THEIR SPLENDID LOYALTY TO THEIR ORDERS AND LEADERS MAKE A RECORD THAT THEIR NATION SHOULD LOOK BACK WITH PRIDE FOR MANY GENERATIONS”!!
The 14th Sikhs left Gallipoli with a great reputation and their gallantry and devotion to duty was recognized by the award of 35 IDSM (Indian Distinguished Service Medals) to various soldiers and NCOs. The award of 35 medals in a single gazette is understood to be a unique record. The 14th Sikhs evacuated Gallipoli on 14 December 1915 and reached Suez Canal 10 days later.
Thus, ended the Gallipoli Campaign of the 14th (XIV Ferozepur) Sikhs; having suffered in casualties, 27 British Officers; 20 Viceroy Commissioned Officers and 1000 men. Given the number of dead and those rendered invalid, the Battalion could have been raised twice over.
In 1936 through voluntary contributions by the XIV Sikhs and British officers, a family wing was added to the Hospital at Ferozepur Cantonment in memory of the Gallipoli martyrs. Till the early 1950’s, Gallipoli Day was the main commemoration held on 4 June by the 1st Battalion, The SIKH Regiment. In this Centenary Year of Gallipoli, it is only befitting we recognize and recount the sacrifices that gave 1 SIKH the reputation it enjoys today as 4 Mechanised Infantry, “THE BRAVEST OF THE BRAVE”!!
*** The authors and editor would like to note the kindred actions of a sister regiment in Canada’s inaugural battle in the Great War; the battalion of 47th Sikhs (currently, 5th Battalion/Sikh Regiment) lost (killed or wounded) 350 of 445 men on April 26th, 1915, during the attack at Mauser Ridge, Ypres, Belgium. Writing after the war, in a 1919 magazine, Lieutenant-General Sir James Willcocks, the then Commander of The Indian Corps, would remember the heroic action as the maiden battle honour for the regiment, reporting that,
“Few battalions in His Majesty’s Army can show a higher percentage of losses throughout its service in France than this fine corps, which so worthily upheld the traditions of the Khalsa.”
Brigadier (Retired) Indrajeet Singh Gakhal, Indian Army
Author of the 1st Sikh War Order of Battle Book (KPG Publications #1)
And the upcoming
“Sikh War Source Book”