Memories Of The Dardanelles Campaign During World War 1, 1914-18
Pamela Hobbs - 21 December 2013
My father never talked of his experiences in World War l - neither his part in it as a young sailor in Britain’s Royal Navy, nor the brutal conditions under which combatants fought. Like so many unemployed lads of the day he lied about his age, and at 16 he joined the Royal Navy as a stoker. The year was 1909. He had already done a brief stint in the army, under a scheme that had him serving for six months before becoming a reservist.
The outbreak of war on July 28, 1914 saw him aboard HMS Implacable, an impressive battleship attached to the home fleet. In the Spring of 1915 the allies launched an attack on Gallipoli in the Dardanelles in a bid to capture the Ottoman Empire capital of Constantinople, now Istanbul. A successful attack would have given Russia a supply route to the Black Sea.
In March 1915 the Implacable left Portland, on England’s south coast, for Gallipoli (Turkey) supporting those allied landings in what became known as the Dardanelles Campaign. Before leaving home Dad bought a slim hard-cover 8 x l0” notebook in which he wrote about events of the day, on most days, during the campaign. One hundred years later I have it in my hands. It’s cover is grimy, probably with coal dust, its pages are not altogether intact, but the writing itself is as clear and firm as when he first dipped his pen nib into the ink bottle. Such penmanship is rarely seen today. As a stoker, he is meticulous about mention of coal amounts loaded to fire the engines, for it was his job as part of a team of 57 stokers working around-the-clock to feed the furnaces that kept the ship moving. He is also very precise about times.
On the day before landing the first troops every man received a written pep talk of sorts from the commanding major general. It read:
My father was 21 at the time. His ‘folk at home’ included a mother, a wife and two very young children.
His Diary During The Battle, In Part Reads As Follows:
March 17. Arrived in Gibraltar and commenced to take in 700 tons of coal, but owing to very bad weather only took in about 40 tons before proceeding to sea at 1.30 p.m. steaming in direction of Malta. 32 seamen trimming coal.
March 21. At 7.30 a.m. we left Malta, steaming in direction of Dardanelles. Speed 15 knots. While in Malta we received news that the British battleships “Irristable” and “Ocean” and French ship “Bouvet” have been sunk by floating mines in the Dardanelles. Nearly all hands saved on our ships. Bouvet sunk in three minutes, and nearly all hands lost. We have our mine catcher rigged.
March 23. At 9.30 a.m. we arrived at Lemnos Bay about 45 miles from entrance to Dardanelles, and join the fleet. Several ships here, including Queen Elizabeth and about a dozen troopships. Six of these left in the evening. We are allowed to say in our letters where we are.
Detail From His Diary
March 26. At 9.30 a.m. we left Lemnos for Tenedos Island near the entrance of the Dardanelles. Tenedos Island belongs to Greece, but we are using it as a base for attacking Dardanelles. We have orders for steam under half hour’s notice.
March 28. We commenced to bombard village and military camp at 10.45 a.m. opening out with 12” and 6” guns, kept bombardment up till l.15 a.m., firing 39 shots in all. Could not see what damage was done but later in the evening saw smoke rising from village. Returned to Tenedos at 7 p.m. and anchored. Go to sea again at 9 p.m. for all night patrolling.
Not much happening in the next few days. He talks of supplying 2,000 refugees on Tenedos Island with food. Also they have a working party off shore building aeroplane sheds. On April 8 they entered the Dardanelles, passing Fort Mum Kale which is in ruins, and the village behind it with hardly a house standing.
March 30. The enemy turned their searchlights on us and we turned ours on them so as to blind theirs. We fired some twenty shots, but enemy did not reply. The town was ablaze and still smoking next day. We have a defect in our port main engine, and asked for permission to go out of action for 48 hours. Granted.
April 11. Arrived at Lemnos at 6 p.m. and took in 600 tons of coal plus ammunition. Mail arrived. There are 60 troopships here, and it is believed that a big attempt to force the Dardanelles will be made on Saturday.
April 25. All night the allies have been bombarding the peninsular. We commenced landing troops at 5.30 a.m. Were landing them in strings of boats towed by our steamboats. On arriving near shore our troops were met by a murderous fire from the enemy who were using machine guns concealed in caves on the cliffs, but our troops fixed bayonets and climbed the cliffs and captured the first trench after fierce fighting, taking 50 prisoners.
The enemy began to snipe people on the ship at ll a.m. Our fleet surgeon who was standing on the quarter deck waiting to go ashore to attend the wounded received a bullet just below the heart, and died at 1.30 p.m. We are landing reinforcements as quickly as possible. In the afternoon the wounded began to arrive on board and after having their wounds dressed were sent aboard hospital ship. Towards midnight there was very hard firing and our troops began to retire towards the water’s edge. We learned afterwards that we were just in time to save our troops from being driven into the sea.
On April 26 he reports that the fleet surgeon was buried at sea, and that the Implacable’s casualties to date are two killed and six wounded.
April 27. Six thousand French troops were landed during the night, including cavalry and artillery. We have now captured the Fort and village of Sedel-Bhar. All day our ships have been bombarding a big hill (Archi-Barba). Implacable has been congratulated on excellent firing, and the way in which troops were landed from her. We have captured a large number of prisoners, some of them are set to work unloading provisions and building a temporary hospital. Indian cavalry has landed.
April 28. Fierce fighting on land. The Turks are well dug in, and are using shrapnel. Boat loads of wounded have been coming from shore. Some are cut most awful, but they seem in the best of spirits. About 11.30 a.m. an ammunition supply of fifty mules were trotting along the edge of the cliff towards our trenches when a Turkish shell fell among them. There was terrible panic, the mules flew in every direction and a good many were killed.
April 30. Today our ships entered the Dardanelles and bombarded Archi-Barba from the back side. We set fire to the town, which now it is dark is lighting up the place for miles around. On shore there has been big artillery duels, two wounded Turkish prisoners came aboard and after having their wounds dressed were sent aboard the prison ship. We had our usual visit from the German aeroplane, fired at him but failed to hit him. One of these nights though he will ‘catch a cold’.
May 3. Yesterday we captured 400 prisoners, including a German officer. At 4 a.m. left for Ambros where we took on ammunition.
May 5. Today there has been heavy artillery duels. Took on 750 tons of coal. Things quiet on shore at present.
May 6. We have been bombarding the hill continually throughout the day. Snipers are still being captured but are very difficult to find as they hide in the trees and shrubs, and wear a kind of green uniform with thistles on it. They even paint their faces green. More troops arrived and were landed during the day. The Australians have blown up a railway bridge and stopped the enemy from bringing up reinforcements.
May 9. We entered Dardanelles at 5.15 a.m. going up a good way, and opened fire on the Asiatic side. The enemy returned our fire and soon the shells were whizzing overhead and dropping around the ship. A shell, about four inches, struck the quarter deck midships, passing through on to the main deck, buckled an iron beam overhead and passed out through the ship’s side. Did not do much damage and nobody was hurt. At 9 a.m. we drew out of range and anchored outside for the night.
May 10.We again entered Dardanelles and bombarded same position as yesterday but enemy did not reply. At 4 p.m. we went up a little further. We have to be careful as enemy try to make us believe that their battery is out of action so we will go further, and then they will open fire and catch us between two batteries. Ain’t having any ! We anchored outside for the night.
On May 13 he tells us that between 1.30 and 1.35 in the middle watch HMS Goliath (Photo) was sunk at the entrance to the Dardanelles. It is believed she was torpedoed** by a Turkish destroyer which came down the Dardanelles as the night was very dark. She must have sunk fast, because when our boats went to assist she had entirely disappeared. Not even a piece of wreckage to be seen, but that can be accounted for since the tide is very swift and is always running out, causing the wreckage to be carried out to sea. 22 officers and 164 men were saved out of 800.
May 14. About 6.30 p.m. the enemy began to shell two transports moored alongside each other. Not much notice was taken at first, but after a while they got the range and we could see they meant business. They began to hit them everywhere. One struck the funnel of the bigger ship and another caught the bridge. We could see they were trying to get their anchors up to get under way, when a shell struck the donkey engine of the bigger ship putting it out of action. She was helpless, but the smaller ship stuck with her. One of our destroyers came up and lowered a boat to go to the assistance of someone in the water. The destroyer then steamed around the transport, making as much smoke as possible to screen it from the enemy. We got under way and went alongside to shield them just as the smaller boat began to move and get out of range. There were about twenty casualties on the transports, and upper decks were badly damaged. One of them had wounded Turkish prisoners on board, who had the satisfaction of knowing they were fired upon by their own people.
May 16 they steamed to Lemnos for stores and ammunition, returning to Dardanelles two days later to join five other ships. On the 18th they headed for Malta where the ship went into dry dock and her crew were given 36 hours leave.
May 23 An entry says simply “Took on 620 tons of coal. Italy declared war.“
May 27 An entry reads: “Arrived at Taranto, Italy and joined up with Italian fleet. Met with a very warm reception from Italian people who lined the harbour waving flags and cheering.”
The next few weeks were spent on manoeuvres. On June 24 Dad attended the funeral of a signalman who died after a brief illness. The funeral was carried out with full naval honors. Officers band. 26 marines and 12 stokers and 12 seamen in attendance. Took in 40 tons of coal. On July Dad attended a football match played between Taranto F.C. and the British. Proceeds were handed over to an Italian war charity fund. Admiral the Duke of Abruzzi in command of the Italian fleet, and Vice Admiral Thursby in command of the British fleet were there. The Brits won by one goal to nil. A return match was played on October 24, the score 1-1.
November 12, the Implacable entered dry dock in Malta, and two days later headed east at 15 knots for the Suez Canal.
November 14 We entered canal at 10 p.m. going down about 30 miles, and moored alongside bank. There is an army camp here. H.A.C’s Indian troops and Camel Corps. It is believed the Turks are going to make a big attempt to cross the canal and attack Egypt. They are building a railway as they advance across the desert. Three days ago our troops here had a brush with the enemy advance guard and killed 250.
November 27 Suez Canal. At 12.15 a.m. we got under way and went further down the canal. The troops stationed here have captured a spy, a boy about 15 years of age. It appears that the Turks drop these boys (with food and water to last them a couple of days) near our outposts, and send them to gather information. Then they come back for them. Our marines landed today and have been building dugouts and observation, and are preparing to lay telephone lines. Neutral ships passing through the canal have an armed guard on board.
That winter, HMS Implacable stayed in the Port Said region until early Spring. One year and a week after leaving England, the diary’s final entry reads:-
The allies withdrew from Gallipoli in January 1916 after an unsuccessful attempt to capture the peninsula.
Pam's Father Jack And Mum Ede - C1960