The last moments of British battleship HMS Majestic, torpedoed by the U-21 off Cape Helles, Dardanelles, on 27 May 1915

In my ignorance I was puzzled by my grandfather’s repeated counts of the ammunition they used. But that warning about being careful with ammunition was apparently a permanent one — artillery ammunition was seriously short throughout the campaign, with the consequence that pre-battle barrages rarely did sufficient damage to properly “soften” the Turks before the infantry went in.


Early in July, after an eight-day battle, the Turks delivered a counteroffensive that was said by witnesses to be the heaviest shelling since the landing. It was not successful and they lost 10,000 men. When they asked for a truce to bury their dead, the British commander refused, apparently on the grounds it would unhinge the enemy. He didn't seem concerned about the consequences for the health of soldiers on both sides.

The Allied forces tried another offensive in mid-July, achieving some 500 yards over two days, at great cost. The three battles of June and July had achieved some 12,300 casualties (and lost the Turks even more, some 30,000). At this point, apparently, the British commander had a nervous breakdown.

With Ramadan ending around 20 July, preparations were made in anticipation of a large Turkish attack, but none came.

The toll of disease, and particularly of dysentery, was now tremendous.


F.O.O.: Forward Observation Officer

Monitor: a class of warship; neither particularly fast or strongly armoured, but carrying disproportionately large guns

Kitchener's Army: a term given to the British volunteers, who were formed, at least in the beginning, into their own units

La Provence: a former transatlantic liner, pressed into service as a troop carrier. She was carrying 1700 men, of whom nearly 1000 were lost.

THURSDAY – 1/7/15 – Turks shelled us at intervals during the night but did no damage. The enemy has been fairly quiet to-day and we are consolidating our position on the ground we have gained and strengthening our trenches. During the evening we were in action firing 10 rounds and doing considerable damage as we caught the Turks in the open. Had several calls during the night but did not do much firing.

FRIDAY – 2/7/15 – This morning I went forward with our F.O.O. and saw the trenches which we captured from the Turks. The front trenches were retaken by the enemy last night and our men had only driven them out again an hour or two before I went in. Three or four hundred dead Turks lie in front of our trenches. These were caught by our shrapnel and will have to lie there till we advance as they cannot be buried before then on account of the fire from both sides. In action again this evening firing 40 rounds. Turks shelled top of our road very heavily but did very little damage. Some of these shells burst right over our guns but I don't think they were intended for us and put it down to bad gunnery.

SATURDAY – 3/7/15 – Nothing much doing during the day but towards evening things began to get lively and an artillery duel between us and the enemy ensued. All our batteries and, I think, all the Turks too must have been in action. Things were pretty lively for a time, but although the enemy's shrapnel burst well on our guns none of us were hit and we were able to keep on firing back. We expect the enemy to attack tonight and will be ready for him. Fired 39 rounds.

SUNDAY – 3/7/15 – The trenches have been fairly quiet all day. During the afternoon a very large supply ship was torpedoed and sank within a few minutes. She was about 4 miles off our position but we could see her quite plainly. I believe her name was “La Provence” but I could not be certain. Quite a lot of wreckage floated past our position but it was too far off to salvage. This is unfortunate as it will most certainly contain a large quantity of foodstuffs. This evening three Turks swam along the coast from their own position and gave themselves up when they reached ours. The prisoners say many thousands would surrender if the Germans would allow them.

MONDAY – 5/7/15 – This morning about 4 a.m. (dawn) the enemy commenced a heavy bombardment evidently with the intention of attacking. Our artillery saw him concentrating large forces of infantry and we were able to bring very effective fire to bear on these troops. We were in action for about 3 hours and must have inflicted very severe losses on the enemy. Turks must have bombarded us with every available piece of artillery as it was the heaviest bombardment we have yet experienced. We lost only 3 men wounded but I do not know how the other batteries got on as we have been standing by all day and have not seen gunners from any other battery. Fired 29 rounds.

TUESDAY – 6/7/15 – All things quiet again. Another division is reported to be landing to relieve the 29th Division which has been here since April 25th and has done the major portion of the fighting. I expect we will also be relieved very shortly and no-one will complain when the nervous tension is relieved for even a very short time.

WEDNESDAY – 7/7/15 – Everything still quiet on both flanks. This afternoon I visited 97th battery in order to examine their gun emplacements which I think are the best I have yet seen and which I will copy for my next gun position if circumstances permit. This evening 6 of our aeroplanes made an attack on the Turkish positions immediately in front of us, each dropping a bomb which was so large that we could follow its descent with the naked eye. They must have done considerable damage.

THURSDAY – 8/7/15 – This morning as there was nothing doing I went forward to see the havoc done by the artillery on Monday morning. In front of our infantry firing trenches the dead Turks lie in rows upon rows just as they advanced to the attack. It is estimated that at the spot at which I looked there are about 3000 dead. At one part our trenches were only about 35 yards from the enemy and they are constantly throwing bombs, the compliment being returned, by our troops. Capt. Leeming with one subaltern and 9 N.C.O’s and men arrived from Alexandria to-day as reinforcements.

FRIDAY – 9/7/15 – Took charge of party to improve dugout for officers mess. This morning about 10 o'clock a German officer under a white flag came across to our lines to try to arrange an armistice. In case of treachery all our guns were loaded and trained on places from which the enemy were most likely to attack. The armistice for some reason or other was refused. The dead are now in such a state that a man almost requires to wear a respirator to live in the infantry trenches. Tomorrow we expect there will be “somethin’ doin’ ” but whether we or the enemy will attack I do not know.

SATURDAY – 10/7/15 – Last night a battery of 5" howitzers took up their position in a gully about 100 yards to our right and were well dug in by this morning. Altered our gun platform to enable us to engage targets in centre where an attack will be delivered in a day or two.

SUNDAY – 11/7/15 – 2.45 a.m. 12/7/15 – Am on guard from 2 a.m. till. 4.30. Yesterday was fairly quiet except for target registered after tea. Turks shell us as soon as we opened fire. Two high explosive shells came in quick succession into my gunpit making a general mess of things besides killing one man and amputating the leg of another. Most of those in the pit were hit, but all except these two were only very slightly hurt. We are attacking in the centre tomorrow, or rather to-day and the artillery open fire at 4.30 a.m. We received another waggon load of ammunition per gun about an hour ago. Fired 4 rounds.

MONDAY – 12/7/15 – Started action at 4.30 this morning and remained in action until about 7.a.m. My detachment was again unfortunate losing two men wounded – 1 gunner and 1 corp. – This leaves me with 5 men out of the 9 I had yesterday. These were the only casualties in the battery. The enemy's shells set the scrub in front of us on fire and the wind carried the fire right up to the guns and finally we had to stop firing although we kept at it right up to the last. To crown all the infantry were unable to take the position attacked by us. The French to-day made a great advance and inflicted heavy casualties on the enemy. Fired 124 rounds.

TUESDAY – 13/7/15 – All things quiet on our part of the line to-day. This afternoon an advance was made in the centre. Each time we attack we gain a little somewhere, so that we must be gradually breaking down the morale of the Turk.

WEDNESDAY – 14/7/15 – Things quiet again to-day. This afternoon a peculiar looking warship stood off our position and bombarded Asia in the direction of Fort Chanak. I think she was a Monitor and she appeared to be firing heavy shells.

THURSDAY – 15/7/15 – A rather peaceful day with very little firing on any part of our front. This afternoon a warship appeared off GabaTepe and appeared to be shelling the other side of Achi Baba. She was “putting them in” in great style.

FRIDAY – 16/7/15 – Things fairly quiet on our flank but some artillery fire was directed from centre and right flank. These quiet spells mean that in a few days we will have another big “slap up”, as both sides take the opportunity to consolidate their positions during the few days of comparative quiet.

SATURDAY – 17/7/15 – Enemy shelled us this afternoon and managed to wound 3 men, one of whom will probably lose his life as a shrapnel bullet lodged in his spine. Last night the enemy shelled the base from the Asiatic side, and also dropped bombs from an aeroplane exploding a large number of rounds of small arm ammunition, a great quantity of which was captured Turkish ammunition.

SUNDAY – 18/7/15 – Still peaceful. Rumoured that the enemy is bringing up large reinforcements in order to make a last determined attempt to push us back into the sea. I hope it is the last as all our men are getting quite worn out with the heat and the continuous fighting.

MONDAY – 19/7/15 – Everything still quiet. A Monitor appeared to-day and shelled the Asiatic side in order to silence “Asiatic Annie” the big gun which shells the base and enfilades our artillery positions. Rumour re large reinforcements coming to the enemy confirmed in a general order to our troops who are exhorted to fall where they stand rather than give way as this will probably be the enemy's last serious effort against us. We are warned against the use of gas by the Turks. Spent an hour or two improving our gun pit tonight.

TUESDAY – 20/7/15 – Still lying low. 29th Divn. of infantry which had left here about a week ago to rest at Lemnos is now returning and will disembark for the next two or three nights. Their rest has been cut short owing to the expected heavy attack by the enemy. I am glad these troops are coming back as they are all regulars of the first quality. Further improved gunpit after dark tonight.

WEDNESDAY – 21/7/15 – Manned the guns at day-light this morning (4 a.m.) in anticipation of an attack but nothing happened. A warship shelled Achi Baba today and appeared to be getting in some good work. Registered a target in the centre firing 6 rounds. Further improved gun pit tonight. This work of course must always be done under cover of darkness to avoid our being shelled.

THURSDAY – 22/7/15 – Manned guns again at daylight but nothing happened. We have now more troops here than ever we have had before for a Turkish attack so I think they will find themselves up against it when they attack us, especially as most of their reinforcements are reported to be untrained. Fired 10 rounds to register a target. Were heavily shelled by enemy but no damage done.

FRIDAY – 23/7/15 – In action at 3 a.m. this morning but fired only 4 rounds. About 3 o'clock this afternoon the enemy made a feint attack, presumably to cause us to waste a good deal of ammunition. Rifles, machine guns and artillery all opened fire and I think the enemy got more than he bargained for. Fired 15 rounds. There is a feeling of uneasiness in the air, sometimes the enemy opens fire and it seems as though a great battle may begin at any moment.

SATURDAY – 24/7/15 – Manned guns at daylight in case of attack but nothing happened. In action this afternoon about 3 o'clock Fired 4 rounds. A short time ago, about 7 p.m., a Taube aeroplane hovered over us for a few minutes and then darted across the gully to 10th Battery and dropped a bomb about 200 yards from us. Fortunately it did no damage although the bomb caused a terrific hole. Three of our aeroplanes chased the enemy and a battle royal ensued between the Taube and one of ours. The enemy, however, made good his escape.

SUNDAY – 25/7/15 – Manned guns again at dawn but everything quiet. Condition favourable to the enemy for the use of asphyxiating gas but no attack came. We are still expecting a big offensive on the part of the enemy and anticipate losing some trenches during the first fierce onslaught. All guns on this flank are manned day and night. Another German aeroplane flew over our position this morning and dropped a bomb about 500 yards to our rear. Have been issued with gas proof helmets.

MONDAY – 26/7/15 – Still “standing by”. The men in the ranks are beginning to think that the enemy is afraid to attack, but I am prepared to believe in those in authority who have the means of obtaining information and consequently know more than we do. Fired four rounds this afternoon.

TUESDAY – 27/7/15 – Fired two rounds this afternoon for ranging purposes and put gun out of action through something jamming in the buffer. Sent to Ordnance for artificer who came up at once and inspected the piece. He is coming again tomorrow to examine it in daylight.

WEDNESDAY – 28/7/15 – Artificer came up from Ordnance today and dismantled my gun in the pit and found that the fault lay with the buffer springs. We sent down to the base per orderly right away and were able to have the new springs in and the gun ready for action by 3 p.m. Fired one round to test springs. Turks are at this moment dropping shells indiscriminately on all our batteries although they have not yet shelled us.

THURSDAY – 29/7/15 – Quietness still reigns. Tonight I am going forward to an advanced position in charge of a party digging gun pits for a battery of “Kitchener’s Army” which is coming into position in three or four days time. We will probably be under rifle fire but that is all in the game and we will just have to be careful.

FRIDAY – 30/7/15 – Got on fairly well with the gun pit last night and were subjected to very little rifle fire. We are now far enough advanced to work with less fear of rifle bullets and as we cover our work with scrub each night when we leave we are not likely to be discovered and shelled. Dead Turks are lying all round where we are digging in. In most cases the skin has dried tight over the face leaving the teeth exposed and this gives the face the appearance of grinning up at one. Am going up again tonight as soon as it is dark.

SATURDAY – 31/7/15 – Went forward this afternoon to the gun pits which we are digging in charge of a small party. It is a pretty ticklish job going up in daylight and for this reason a party of only four could be sent. We crept through the scrub to where we had to work and reached it without mishap. Of course while actually working we were behind cover and could not be seen except from aeroplanes. We put in about 3 hours hard labour and then crept back the way we had come to the large gully leading to our own battery. A large party is going up tonight after dark to finish our work.