The Battle of Sari Bair also known as the August Offensive was the final attempt made by the British in August 1915 to seize control of the Gallipoli peninsula from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War.
The Gallipoli Campaign had raged on two fronts, Anzac and Helles, for three months since the invasion of 25 April 1915. With the Anzac landing a tense stalemate, the Allies had attempted to carry the offensive on the Helles battlefield at enormous cost for little gain. In August, the British command proposed a new operation to reinvigorate the campaign by capturing the Sari Bair ridge, the high ground that dominated the middle of the peninsula above the Anzac landing.
The main operation started on 6 August with a fresh landing 5 miles (8.0 km) north of Anzac at Suvla Bay in conjunction with the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps mounting an attack north into the rugged country alongside the Sari Bair range with the aim of capturing the high ground and linking with the Suvla landing. At Helles, the British and French were now to remain largely on the defensive.
The attack from the Anzac perimeter was directed against two peaks of the Sari Bair range; Chunuk Bair and Hill 971. Under the overall command of Major-General Alexander Godley, the attacking force included the New Zealand and Australian Division, the British 13th Division plus a couple of extra infantry brigades.
The plan was for two assaulting columns to march out of Anzac on the night of 6 August. The right-hand column, comprising the New Zealand Infantry Brigade under Brigadier-General Francis Johnston, would head for Chunuk Bair. The left-hand column, commanded by Major-General Herbert Cox, heading for Hill 971 and neighbouring Hill Q, contained the Australian 4th Infantry Brigade of Brigadier-General John Monash and Cox’s 29th Indian Brigade. Both objectives were expected to be captured by dawn.
To distract the Ottomans from the impending offensive, on 6 August, at 5.30 p.m., an attack was made at Lone Pine by the infantry brigades of the Australian 1st Division. While the attack was ultimately successful in capturing the Ottoman trenches, it was counterproductive as a diversion as it attracted reinforcements to the north. Another costly diversion was carried out at Helles which resulted in a pointless struggle over a patch of ground known as Krithia Vineyard. As was the case at Lone Pine, the British action at Helles did not restrain the Ottomans from sending reinforcements north to the Sari Bair range.
The right column heading for Chunuk Bair had a simpler navigation task as their route was to some degree visible from the old Anzac perimeter. In what became known as the Battle of Chunuk Bair, the New Zealanders failed to capture the peak by the morning of 7 August but managed the feat on the next morning.
On the morning following the breakout, a number of other attacks were planned within the old Anzac perimeter. The most notorious was the attack of the Australian 3rd Light Horse Brigade at The Nek whose slim chance of success had depended on the New Zealanders having captured Chunuk Bair on schedule.
The left column’s journey through the tangled ravines was doomed to failure and, having become lost and confused, it never got close to the objective of Hill 971. By the morning of 8 August Cox’s forces were sufficiently organised to attempt an attack on their original objectives of Hill 971 and Hill Q. However Monash’s brigade was still mistaken about its position relative to Hill 971. In fact, by the end of the day’s advance Monash’s troops had actually reached the position they had believed they had been starting from. Meanwhile, Hill 971 was more unreachable than ever. The three Australian battalions that had made the assault suffered 765 casualties — the 15th Battalion was reduced to about 30 per cent of its normal strength.
Of the force aiming for Hill Q, one battalion of the 6th Gurkhas commanded by Major Cecil Allanson and joined by disparate New Army men, moved to within 200 feet of Hill Q by 6 p.m. on 8 August where they sought shelter from the heavy Ottoman fire. After a naval artillery bombardment, the battalion attacked the summit shortly after 5 a.m. on 9 August. The plan of the attack, as concocted by General Godley, had involved numerous other battalions but all were lost or pinned down so the Gurkhas went on alone. They succeeded in driving the Ottomans off the hill but were then caught in further naval gunfire from friendly monitors or from an artillery battery at Anzac. Having suffered heavy casualties and with no reinforcements, Allanson’s force was pushed back off the hill shortly afterwards.
By the end of 9 August the Allies retained only a foothold on Chunuk Bair. On 10 August the Ottomans, led from the front by Colonel Mustafa Kemal, counter-attacked and regained control of the entire Sari Bair ridge.