Recently, the Centenary year of the Gallipoli Campaign was celebrated! Having been commissioned into 1 Sikh Regiment, 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. 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. The brief on the campaign from the XIV Ferozepur Sikhs operations point of view is as follows.
by Brig IS Gakhal (Retd)
To put pressure on the Caucasus Front, the Russians 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 therefore 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 were able to rush in reinforcements. 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 possible 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.
MEDITERRANEAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE (MEF)
Lord Kitchener, the British Secretary of State for War appointed Gen Sir Ian Hamilton as commander of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) to carry out the mission to occupy Gallipoli Peninsula. The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) under Lt Gen William Birdwood along with 29th British Division (Maj Gen B. Delice); the Royal Naval Division and the French Oriental Expeditionary Corps constituted a force of five Divisions within the MEF. The 29th Indian Brigade (part of 10 Indian Division), then protecting the Suez Canal was earmarked as a reserve for the MEF. The 14th Sikh Infantry Regiment (XIV Ferozepur Sikhs) was then a part of 29 Indian Brigade.
At the start of First World War, XIV Sikhs then located at Peshawar, were deputed for Laam ki Larai. XIV Sikhs, on receipt of orders for overseas operations concentrated at Karachi by the end of November 1914, reaching the Suez Canal by December 1914 as part of the 29th Indian Brigade. For the next seven months, the XIV Sikhs helped secure the Suez Canal from sabotage to keep the sea route open. On April 30, orders were received to move to Gallipoli; the regiment boarded the Dunluce Castle for Cape Helles and landed at ‘V’ Beach on May 3, 1915 as part of the 29th 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. The 29th Brigade was placed on the left of the French contingent.
SECOND BATTLE OF KRITHIA (MAY 15, 1915)
On 6 May, 87 Brigade went into attack against the Turkish trenches and by 8 May, had managed to advance 600 yards with heavy casualties. On 9 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 XIV Sikhs in reserve. Between 9 and 11 May, some headway was made in the area. XIV Sikhs were asked to take over the area of 89 Punjab. XIV Sikhs made determined efforts with Captain Channer and Major Swinley being wounded and Lieutenant Spankie being killed.
On 15 May 1915, 69 and 89 Punjab were withdrawn due to the presence of Muslim troops and replaced by 1st Lancashire Fusiliers and 1st Royal Fusiliers. The plan that was to “inch forward”. The process was to dig a forward line of defenses 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 XIV 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 XIV Sikhs by the Commanding Officer of the Royal Fusiliers.
The Royal Fusiliers would later again serve with XIV Sikhs at the Khyber Pass and presented to XIV Sikh 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:
- XIV 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.
- 1/6 Gorkha 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 JUNE 15
Wave-I: Objective J-10. Troops: Half 11/6 GR Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers and B & D Company’s (Coys), XIV Sikhs.
Wave-II: Objective J-11.Troops: Half each 11/6 GR, XIV Sikhs and Inniskilling Fusiliers.
Reserve: Balance, Inniskilling Fusiliers.
THE PLAN & TIME SLOTS
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 XIV SIKHS IN THE PLAN (UNDER THE COMMAND OF COL PC PALIN)
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 (2xMGS) supporting XIV 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 the left flank but withdrawn in consonance with LF ops.
- D Coy XIV Sikhs under 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 RA Savory wounded. B Coy managed to skillfully capture a line of Turkish trenches and hold them till withdrawn on 5 June, considering the overall situation. Here, Sepoy Udai Singh lept 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 Coys and HQ-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 XIV 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 June 15, but with little success. By late evening Capt Engledue was down to 12 men when he was ordered to withdraw.
The remnants of XIV 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 the retrieving the weapon.
On 04 June 1915, all 514 Officers and men of XIV Ferozepur 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 5 June 15 morning, the strength available to the CO was, British Officers-2; Indian Officers-2 and 79 OR.
In this battle, XIV 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 XIV 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.”
XIV Sikhs left Gallipoli with a great reputation and their gallantry and devotion to duty was recognized by the award of 35 Indian Distinguished Service Medals (IDSM) to various soldiers and NCOs. The award of 35 medals in a single gazette is understood to be a unique record. XIV Sikhs evacuated Gallipoli on 14 Dec 15 and reached Suez Canal 10 days later.
Thus, ended the Gallipoli campaign of XIV Sikhs, having suffered the casualties of 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 1950s, Gallipoli Day was the main commemoration held on June 4 in 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.’ It would also be appropriate to share with the Regimental reader some of the anecdotes of Gallipoli that are common knowledge in 1 Sikh:
Autocratic PC Palin
This CO was known to be a stickler. All British officers were wearing turbans in the operational area as per regimental tradition. The CO however noticed that some of the officers had stopped shaving and grown beards. To the CO the reason seemed to avoid being sniped at by the enemy and he did not like this. On the morning of 04 June 1915, as Coys readied for the attack, Col Palin saw Lt Savory rush towards his Coy with a heavy stubble of a beard. Lt Savory was promptly summoned, dressed down and asked to shave immediately. Those who have dry shaved a heavy stubble will appreciate what Lt Savory went through and in what frame of mind he went into attack.
Sep Niranjan Singh
During the late evening of 04 June, Sep Niranjan Singh reported to Lt Cursetjee, the RMO that he was hit in the head. Seeing no bleeding and thinking that that Sep Niranjan was shamming, the RMO ordered him back to his Coy. On 05 June morning when there was some respite, the soldiers washed themselves in the ravine water body. As Sep Niranjan removed his turban, he found the turban caked with dried blood and the bullet lodged in his Kanga, the Sikh hair comb! Instantly Niranjan rushed to the RMO to show that he indeed was hit and was not shamming!
Sep Udai Singh
When Lt Savory was hit, he collapsed. Seeing his officer fall, Sep Udai Singh leaped over the trench protection and ran under a hail of gun fire to carry Lt Savory to safety. Lt Savory was attended to and revived. Lt Savory and Sep Udai Singh thereafter enjoyed a family relationship that lasted up to the death of Gen Sir RA Savory (the first AG of free India). In fact when Gen Savory came to India to attend the Mar 1968 colour presentation, he made it a point to visit 1 Sikh at Solan and had Nk/Clk Santokh Sg, S/O Sep Udai Singh, then serving in 1 Sikh to bring his father to Solan for a reunion. It was some reunion. In fact there is a book that compiles the correspondence between Gen Savory and Sep Udai Singh and his son. Interesting read.
Hav Maggar Singh
A tall section commander his quick wit enabled capture of enemy trenches. Leading his section, Hav Maggar Singh suddenly encountered wire obstacle – something he experienced for the first time. Without a second thought, he leaped over the obstacle and his section followed to a man. The Turks, who had relied on the wire obstacle to guard the trenches, were taken by surprise.
Lt Savory as Officiating CO
After the 04 June causalities, news trickled back home of the heavy casualties suffered by XIV Sikhs. Parents of Lt Savory were naturally anxious and wrote to the CO seeking out the well-being of their son. By the time the letter reached the Bn, Col PC Palin was officiating as the brigade commander and all other officers were either killed or hospitalized or on sick leave. The Bn correspondence was put before Lt Savory as Officiating CO along with the letter from his parents. Not one to miss out, Lt Savory promptly wrote out a letter to his parents informing them of the well-being of their son and not forgetting to sign the letter as Lt Savory, Offg CO XIV Ferozepur Sikhs!
An alumnus of the Bishops School Pune, IMA Dehradun and CDM Secunderabad, Brig IS Gakhal was commissioned into 1 Sikh, commanded a Battalion in Op Rakshak, raised and operationalized a Rashtriya Rifles Sector in J& K during which he was wounded. He commissioned the Sikh Regimental Centre giving, recruit training a modern orientation. He is also an avid writer and reader of Military History. He can be reached on Email: email@example.com