Chapter XII. Soghan-Dere And The Flier Of Ak-Bash
Next morning, after news had been telephoned in that the submarines had got another battleship, the Majestic, we climbed again into the covered wagon and started for the south front. We drove down to the sea and along the beach road through Maidos - bombarded several weeks before, cross-country from the Aegean, and nothing now but bare, burnt walls - on to Kilid Bahr, jammed with camels and ox-carts and soldiers, and then on toward the end of the peninsula.
We were now beyond the Narrows and the Dardanelles. To the left, a bit farther out, were the waters in which the Irresistible, Ocean, and Bouvet were sunk, and even now, off the point, ten or twelve miles away, hung the smoke of sister ships. We drove past the big guns of the forts, past field-guns covering the shore, past masked batteries and search-lights. Beside us, along the shore road, mule trains and ox-carts and camel trains were toiling along in the blaze and dust with provisions and ammunition for the front. Once we passed four soldiers carrying a comrade, badly wounded, on a stretcher padded with leaves. After an hour or so of bumping we turned into a transverse valley, as level almost as if it had been made for a parade-ground.
High hills protected it north and south; a little stream ran down the centre - it might have been made for a storage base and camp. More brush-covered tents and arbors for horses were strung along the hillside, one above the other sometimes, in half a dozen terraces. We drove into the valley, got out and followed the orderly to a brush-covered arbor, closed on every side but one, out of which came a well set-up, bronzed, bright-eyed man of fifty or thereabout who welcomed us like long-lost friends.
It was Colonel Shukri Bey, commander of the Fifteenth Division. We were the first correspondents who had pushed thus far, and as novel to him apparently as he was charming to us. He invited us into the little arbor; coffee was brought and then tea, and, speaking German to Suydam and French to me, he talked of the war in general and the operations at the end of the peninsula with the greatest good humor and apparent confidence in the ultimate result.
Our talk was continually punctuated by the rumble of the big guns over the plateau to the south. "That's ours"... "That's theirs," he would explain; and presently, with a young aide-de-camp as guide, we climbed out of the valley and started down the plateau toward Sedd ul Bahr. The Allies' foothold here was much wider than that at An Burnu. In the general landing operations of April 25 and 26 (one force was sent ashore in a large collier, from which, after she was beached, the men poured across anchored lighters to the shore) the English and French had established themselves in Sedd ul Bahr itself and along the cliffs on either side. This position was strengthened during the weeks of fighting which followed until they appeared to be pretty firmly fixed on the end of the peninsula, with a front running clear across it in a general northwest line, several kilometres in from the point. The valley we had just left was Soghan-Dere, about seven miles from Sedd ul Bahr, and the plateau across which we were walking led, on the right, up to a ridge from which one could look down on the whole battle-field, or, to the left, straight down into the battle itself.
The sun was getting down in the west by this time, down the road from camp men were carrying kettles of soup and rice pilaf to their comrades in the trenches, and from the end of the plateau came continuous thundering and the Crack... crack... crack! of infantry fire. The road was strewn with fragments of shells from previous bombardments, and our solicitous young lieutenant, fearing we might draw fire, pulled us behind a bush for a minute or two, whenever the aeroplane, flying back and forth in the west, seemed to be squinting at us. The enemy could see so little, he said, that whenever they saw anything at all they fired twenty shots at it on principle.
For two miles, perhaps, we walked, until from the innocent-looking chaparral behind us there was a roar, and a shell wailed away over our heads out into the distance.
We could see the end of the peninsula, where the coast curves round from Eski Hissariik toward Sedd ul Bahr, and two of the enemy's cruisers steaming slowly back and forth under the cliffs, firing, presumably, as they steamed. Now they were hidden under the shore, now they came in view, and opposite Eski Hissarlik swung round and steamed west again. In front of us, just over the edge of the plateau which there began to slope downward, were the trenches of the Turks' left wing, now under bombardment. The ridge just hid the shells as they struck, but we could see the smoke from each, now a tall black column, like the "Jack Johnsons" of the west, now a yellowish cloud that hung long afterward like fog - and with it the continuous rattle of infantry fire. Several fliers were creeping about far up against the 'blue, looking for just such hidden batteries as that which kept barking behind us, and out in front and to the right came the low Br - r - um - m! of heavy guns.
Fighting like this had been going on for weeks, the ships having the advantage of their big guns by day, the Turks recovering themselves, apparently, at night. They were on their own ground - a succession of ridges, one behind the other - and they could not only always see, but generally looked down on, an enemy who could not, generally, see them. And the enemy's men, supplies, perhaps even his water - for this is a dry country at all times, and after June there are almost no rains - must come from his ships. If English submarines were in the Marmora, so, too, were German submarines off the Dardanelles, and if the Turks were losing transports the English were losing battleships.