Forcing the Narrows

 

 

“Forcing the Narrows”

 

 

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, 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.

 

150-Leslie Cridland.
150 Spr Leslie Richard Cridland.

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 'Irresistible' abandoned 18th March 1915 -Photo published in The War Illustrated, 1 May 1915.
HMS ‘Irresistible’ abandoned 18th March 1915 -Photo published in The War Illustrated, 1 May 1915.

 

HMS Ark Royal
The HMS Ark Royal –

HMS Ark Royal  “was an interesting sight” – Leslie Cridland

19 year old driver 16 Marcus Clark   also gave a brief account of the sappers first foray into battle in his letter home in May 1915, he reported how 88 Bill Casburn was also one of the sappers selected for the mission.
“Two French and one English cruiser went down in the Dardanelles on the 18th  March. Twenty one of our boys were up there that day, W. Casburn among them. They went up there to blow up a fort that was supposed to be silenced, but when they got there, it was one of the most active and they could not land.”– Marcus Clark
Sapper 88 Bill Casburn, writing from the trenches at Gallipoli described his experience as one of the engineers selected for the mission. The following extract from one of Bill’s letter home was published in the Sydney ‘Sun Newspaper’  on Tuesday 21st September 1915.
“After leaving Lemnos Island 20 men, including myself, were picked from the 1st Field Company Engineers as a demolition party to assist the Royal Marines in demolishing the forts at the entrance to the Dardanelles. We saw the combined British and French fleets bombard the outer and inner forts. It was a magnificent sight to see the big battleships In action. When the Queen Elizabeth fired her 151n. guns everything shook for miles around— even the ship we were on shook like a rowing boat.
Soon villages and forts were on fire as far as the eye could see.”- Bill Casburn

 

Image  Courtesy of http://www.naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN2-123.JPG

Image courtesy  – www. naval-history.net/WW1Book-RN2-230.JPG

 

View across the narrows to Chanak from above Kilid-Bahr an old Turkish fort is on the shoreline in the foreground.
View across the narrows to Chanak from above Kilid-Bahr an old Turkish fort is on the shoreline in the foreground.

 

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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”

Story © Vance Kelly2016

Sources:

AWM, NLA, NAA

naval-history.net