150 Leslie Richard Cridland was a 22 years old carpenter and a well known St. Stephens Club footballer from Lidcombe, Sydney.
Prior to the Gallipoli landing Leslie or Richard as he was also known, was one of twenty original sappers selected and trained in demolition work. On board a troopship with a number of naval marines, and under the leadership of 1st FCE officer Lieut, Clive Huntley, these sappers were involved in the historic mission to “Force the Narrows” of the Dardanelles on March 18th 1915.
The Allied naval fleet had an ambitious plan to force their way through the Turkish straits known as the Dardanelles and onward to conquer Constantinople. This campaign was hampered by the Turkish artillery defences and the 2 kilometre wide section of the Dardanelles channel known as the”The Narrows” which was riddled with mines.
After the fleet had destroyed the forts guarding the outer entrance to the Dardanelles, Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale, the next phase was the bombardment of the Turkish forts guarding “The Narrows”. Unsuccessful attempts to clear Turkish minefields which were also guarded by well concealed forts and mobile artillery batteries led to fierce artillery duels between the Turks and the Allies culminating in an unsuccessful attack and the failure of the Allied Fleet to “Force The Narrows”.
The mission was abandoned when the two British battleships HMS “Ocean” and “Irresistible” and the French battleship Bouvet were lost . Leslie gives a rare and personal account of this historic attempt which was later published in the ‘Evening News’ Sydney.
ATTEMPT TO FORCE THE NARROWS
LIDCOMBE SAPPER’S STORY
Evening News (Sydney, NSW : 1869 – 1931), Monday 11 October 1915, page 6
Twenty Australian sappers were taken on board the troopship at Lemnos Island, and in company with a number of marines received special training in demolition work. The object was to land the men at the entrance of the Dardanelles, after the naval guns had wrecked the forts of Chanak and Seddal Bahr to complete the work of destruction.
Sapper R Cridland of Lidcombe was one of the men picked and was a witness of the historic attempt to force the narrows which resulted in the loss of HMS Irresistible and Ocean, and the subsequent abandonment of the idea that the Dardanelles could be forced by naval units alone.
Writing from Manchester Hospital, he said:
“We left for the Dardanelles on March 8 and arrived off Tenedos island at 10.30 am. The island had now been transformed into a naval base for the allied fleet. Here we witnessed a wonderful sight. The fleet of warships – sit ready for action, was a grim picture. Between them dashed destroyers of all size, and nearby was a fleet of trawlers that had been engaged in this risky work of clearing the straits of floating mines. The aeroplane ship Ark Royal with its hydroplanes on deck was an interesting sight.
Our ship then proceeded to Rabbit island and from here we could see into the Dardanelles and with the aid of glasses watch events up as far as the narrows. We had arrived just in time to see the first division commence the bombardment. Led by the battleship it steamed towards the entrance and fired a couple of well-directed shells against the ruined forts of Sedd el Bahr and Kum Kale This precaution was taken in case the Turks had brought up new guns during the night. The firing of these shells was the signal for the bombardment to commencement. Receiving no reply from the forts the division dashed into the straights keeping up a heavy fire and was met by a torrent of missiles from the enemy’s concealed batteries. But practically no damage was done by the guns. It was the floating mines that caused trouble. Even though the trawlers had cleared the straights, the Turks directed by German officers floated a number of mines down the Narrows and about 20 minutes before the bombardment commenced.
The Queen Elizabeth standing well out to sea, kept firing her huge 15” guns. And when she spoke it was always directed against some big object of the enemy’s. I witnessed the explosion of two magazines- one at Chanak and the other at Kilid Bahr. The magazines when exploded caused huge columns of smoke to rise hundreds of feet in the air. During the day the British Ships, ‘OCEAN’ and ‘IRRESISTIBLE’ and the French ‘BOUVET’ were sunk ,though the ‘GAULOIS’ was badly hit she was beached on a small island about 60 yards from where were stationed.
“This day proved the most disastrous to the allied fleet since the attempt to force the Dardanelles began and at 8 o’clock the same night our troopship left Tenedos and made back to Lemnos Island. The proposed demolition work was abandoned which as it turned out subsequently was a very good thing for us sappers”
HMS Ark Royal “was an interesting sight” – Leslie Cridland
Image Courtesy of http://www.naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN2-123.JPG
Image courtesy – www. naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN2-230.JPG
Finally 151 Ernest Murray recorded in his diary, how everyone envied the sappers leaving on their mission……
7th March 1915 ….“We came ashore today bringing 7 days supply & had a lot of work getting things ashore & to our Camping ground. It was quite dark before we had our Camp fixed up & by the time we had our tea we were quite tired enough to turn in.
No. 3 Section left at short notice for the Dardanelles to do some Demolition work We all envy them getting away first but our turn will soon come”
30 Donald Asire Mackay was also one of the originals selected on this mission and 101 Jack Moore is very likely to have been among those selected as he gives a very detailed account of the event in his letters.
Story © Vance Kelly2016
AWM, NLA, NAA