Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Regarding Turkish Machine Guns at the Landing

In his book “The Landing At Anzac - 1915”, Brigadier Chris Roberts (Retired) brings into question the likelihood of machine guns opposing the Anzacs at the time of the Landing. His research included access to Turkish records which have become available in recent years. I’m not in a position to review his research material, but weighing up the pro’s and cons of the information available to me and remaining open minded, I think that BRIG Roberts’ does provide a plausible argument. But that doesn’t mean he is correct, though.
On the other side of the coin, the Turkish 2/27 Battalion was garrisoning the area north and south of Gaba Tepe at the time. Major Ismet, C.O. of the 2/27th Bn, is quoted (on page 9 of “25 April 1915” by David Cameron), stating tactical orders from General Liman Von Sanders to place “half a machine company (two guns) …. on the ridge behind Ari Burnu” and “in such a way as to bring the northern shore of Ariburnu and Kaba Tepe under direct fire”. If anyone was in a position to know what the defences consisted of at the time, Major Ismet was.

Part of BRIG Roberts’ argument is - the Turks only had a scattering of troops acting as warning posts along the coast at the time. They did not expect the Allies to land at Ari Burnu. Machine guns were a vital weapon for defence and a scarce commodity in the Ottoman Army, so why would they locate them at a spot where they didn’t expect the Allies to land? It makes sense that they would be centrally located back from the beach with the main reserve, awaiting the order to move to a threatened stretch of coast when the attack began.
If you wish to read BRIG Roberts’ essay (it's a good read) a version is available here 

The Turkish 2/27 Battalion had two and a half hours forewarning of the Anzac landing in the early hours of 25 April 1915. If half a MG company was supporting them, as reported by Major Ismet, I think they could have brought them into position within that time.

So which way do I lean in my book?

I originally included machine guns in the initial Ottoman defence at Ari Burnu, as detailed by Mr C.E.W. Bean in his book (The Story of Anzac, Official History Vol1). But after I read BRIG Roberts’ book, I decided to bend to the side of caution and remove such references.

Now you see it, now you don't.
The reason I have opted out of the argument is that I do not want to perpetuate erroneous details, one way or the other, if I can help it. I would like my book to be as readably accurate in 100 years, as it is on the date of publication. As I studied and wrote my book, I developed my own theories about why particular events happened, but I resisted the temptation to impose them on the story. Maybe a few have crept in, but this wasn’t my intention. My main aim was to present the Legend as it happened as far as we know, without distorting it any more then it already is. It’s an amazing story and should be available to everybody for their interpretation. By presenting the reported “facts” I have left it open to the reader to make their own decisions about why the attack failed, what decisions were crucial, etc. 

The omission of machine guns in the initial Ottoman defence does not change the story as told from my perspective. The Anzacs were opposed by heavy fire; whether it is machine gun or rifle fire is irrespective.  

Understandably human nature may have been the cause for errors made by eye witnesses, but we can’t rely solely on official documentation either, for the same reason. Remember, we “lost” 1370 votes in our most recent Federal election; so it’s possible that some relevant documents may have been misplaced in the intervening 98 years since the Landing took place. The trouble for modern historians is that they can only be guided by written accounts; whether they are in the form of official documentation, or personal diaries, letters, etc. What needs to be remembered is that these sources are not totally reliable.

As an example, an eyewitness records (page 33 of “25 April 1915” by David Cameron) that he “saw” a Turkish machine gun get set up and start firing before being knocked backwards by fire from a naval pinnace. How does an historian, relying purely on official documents, account for such statements? Can all such statements be entirely discounted as “fabrications”?

In his preface to the Official History Bean remarks that Turkish official records “are most unreliable” and even some British records are inaccurate. This warning is not heeded by many historians who appear to be only too ready to discard original versions of events, in favour of “new theories”. This is not intended to be a slight on BRIG Roberts’ essay (which I consider very valid, and his book is excellent), but rather an asterisk on the danger historian’s face when relying on “official documentation” only.

Mr Bean has attempted to tell it as best he could, without obvious bias or discretion. He relied on his personal experience (as he was there on the day of the landing and afterwards), documentation, interviews within days of the landing and correspondence with eye witnesses. No one was in a better position then he to write the Official History. This coupled with his desire to preserve an accurate record of Australians in the Great War resulted in a detailed and, as much as is possible, reliable account.

The further we get from the event the more questions seem to arise. Some have credence, some are pure red herrings. Whatever the facts were, they are continually being challenged and questioned. The truth will never be set in concrete and, it seems to me, the further we get from the event the more blurry the view becomes.

For further reading, I highly recommend all three of the books I’ve mentioned in this blog post; plus of course “The Anzac Legend” when it is published.

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