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   Chapter 10 THE NEW LANDING

At Suvla Bay By John Hargrave Characters: 6945

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


A pale pink sunrise burst across the eastern sky as our transport came steaming into the bay. The haze of early morning dusk still held, blurring the mainland and water in misty outlines.

Hawk and I had slept upon the deck. Now we got up and stretched our cramped limbs. Slowly we warped through the quiet seas.

You must understand that we knew not where we were. We had never heard of Suvla Bay-we didn't know what part of the Peninsula we had reached. The mystery of the adventure made it all the more exciting. It was to be "a new landing by the Xth Division"-that was all we knew.

Some of us had slept, and some had lain awake all night. Rapidly the pink sunrise swept behind the rugged mountains to the left, and was reflected in wobbling ripples in the bay.

We joined the host of battleships, monitors, and troopships standing out, and "stood by."

We could hear the rattle of machine-guns in the distant gloom beyond the streak of sandy shore. The decks were crowded with that same khaki crowd. We all stood eagerly watching and listening. The death-silence had come upon us. No one spoke. No one whistled.

We could see the lighters and small boats towing troops ashore. We saw the men scramble out, only to be blown to pieces by land mines as they waded to the beach. On the Lala Baba side we watched platoons and companies form up and march along in fours, all in step, as if they were on parade.

"In fours!" I exclaimed to Hawk, who was peering through my field-glasses.

"Sheer murder," said Hawk.

No sooner had he spoken than a high explosive from the Turkish positions on the Sari Bair range came screaming over the Salt Lake: "Z-z-z-e-e-e-o-o-o-p-Crash!"

They lay there like a little group of dead beetles, and the wounded were crawling away like ants into the dead yellow grass and the sage bushes to die. A whole platoon was smashed.

It was not yet daylight. We could see the flicker of rifle-fire, and the crackle sounded first on one part of the bay, and then another. Among the dark rocks and bushes it looked as if people were striking thousands of matches.

Mechanical Death went steadily on. Four Turkish batteries on the Kislar Dargh were blown up one after the other by our battleships. We watched the thick rolling smoke of the explosions, and saw bits of wheels, and the arms and legs of gunners blown up in little black fragments against that pearl-pink sunrise.

The noise of Mechanical Battle went surging from one side of the bay to the other-it swept round suddenly with an angry rattle of maxims and the hard echoing crackle of rifle-fire.

Now and then our battle-ships crashed forth, and their shells went hurtling and screaming over the mountains to burst with a muffled roar somewhere out of sight.

Mechanical Death moved back and forth. It whistled and screamed and crashed. It spat fire, and unfolded puffs of grey and white and black smoke. It flashed tongues of livid flame, like some devilish ant-eater lapping up its insects... and the insects were the sons of men.

Mechanical Death, as we saw him at work, was hard and metallic, steel-studded and shrapnel-toothed. Now and then he bristled with bayonets, and they glittered here and there in tiny groups, and charged up the rocks and through the bushes.

The noise increased. Mechanical Death worked first on our side, and then with the Turks. He led forward a squad, and the next instant mowed them down with a hail of lead. He gallo

ped up a battery, unlimbered-and before the first shell could be rammed home Mechanical Death blew the whole lot up with a high explosive from a Turkish battery in the hills.

And so it went on hour after hour. Crackle, rattle and roar; scream, whistle and crash. We stood there on the deck watching men get killed. Now and then a shell came wailing and moaning across the bay, and dropped into the water with a great column of spray glittering in the early morning sunshine. A German Taube buzzed overhead; the hum-hum-hum of the engine was very loud. She dropped several bombs, but none of them did much damage. The little yellow-skinned observation balloon floated above one of our battleships like a penny toy. The Turks had several shots at it, but missed it every time.

The incessant noise of battle grew more distant as our troops on shore advanced. It broke out like a bush-fire, and spread from one section to another. Mechanical Death pressed forward across the Salt Lake. It stormed the heights of the Kapanja Sirt on the one side, and took Lala Baba on the other. Puffs of smoke hung on the hills, and the shore was all wreathed in the smoke of rifle and machine-gun fire. A deadly conflict this-for one Turk on the hills was worth ten British down below on the Salt Lake.

There was no glory. Here was Death, sure enough-Mechanical Death run amok-but where was the glory?

Here was organised murder-but it was steel-cold! There was no hand-to-hand glory. A mine dispersed you before you had set foot on dry land; or a high explosive removed your stomach, and left you a mangled heap of human flesh, instead of a medically certified, healthy human being.

Mechanical Death wavered and fluctuated-but it kept going. If it slackened its murderous fire at one side of the bay, it was only to burst forth afresh upon the other.

We wondered how it was that we were still alive, when so many lay dead. Some were killed on the decks of the transports by shrapnel.

Our monitors crept close to the sandy shore, and poured out a deadly brood of Death.

The crack and crash was deafening, and it literally shook the air... it quivered like a jelly after each shot.

The fighting got more and more inland, and the rattle and crackle fainter and farther away. But we still watched, fascinated.

The little groups of men lay in exactly the same positions on the beach. That platoon by the side of Lala Baba lay in a black bunch-stone dead. We could see our artillery teams galloping along like a team of performing fleas, taking up new positions behind Lala Baba. So this is war? Well, it's pretty awful! Wholesale murder... what's it all for? Wonder how long we shall last alive before Mechanical Death blows our brains out, or a leg off...

Queer thing, war! Didn't think it was quite like this! So mechanical and senseless.

And now came the time for us to land. A lighter came alongside, with a little red-bearded man in command-

"Remind you of any one?" I said to Hawk.

"Cap'n Kettle!"

"Yes!"

He was exactly like Cutcliffe Hyne's famous "Kettle," except that he smoked a pipe. We huddled into the lighter, and hauled our stores down below. Some of us were "green about the gills," and some were trying to pretend we didn't care.

We watched the boat which landed just before us strike a mine and be blown to pieces. Encouraging sight... At last we reached the tiny cove, and the lighter let down a sort of tail-board on the sand.

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