War of Attrition: The Ottoman Snipers

War of Attrition: The Ottoman Snipers

Following the heavy action and pitched battles of the landing on the 25th, the ANZACS concentrated on clinging to their precarious position on the beachhead around the landing point.

Although the level of fighting fell somewhat over the following fortnight, it was a time of constant anxiety for the troops with the Ottoman forces holding the high ground just to the inland of the beach, from which they were able to direct intermittent artillery, machine gun and sniper fire.

A particular problem was that of the Ottoman snipers – these were selected because of their ability to shoot well and they were trained camouflage experts. They were equipped with the standard Ottoman rifle of the day – the German made 7.65 mm M1903 Mauser bolt-action rifle that was equipped with a box magazine and could hit targets up to 600 m away.

Ottoman snipers, often working individually, concealed themselves in the numerous brush covered hills and ravines overlooking ANZAC Cove awaiting a suitable opportunity. After firing at their target they would immediately move, under cover, to a new location, to repeat the process soon after.

The diary of the Signaller Ellis Silas recorded something of the extent of the sniper issue in his entry of May 1:

“Australians have done splendidly, holding a very difficult position; have been much troubled with snipers. Am glad I have done my duty. First wash for a week – go down to the Water Hole, which is always covered by Turkish snipers – it was safer in the trenches than here – all around this spot are dead and wounded who have been hit when dodging round this corner; however, one must drink, even if the price be Death. Make dug-outs in our rest camps, but men are continually caught by the snipers. Signaller Walker just hit in the mouth – we considered we were out of range in our dug-out but the snipers are everywhere”.

Colonel H. N. McLaurin, the Commander of the 1st Australian Brigade, was killed by a sniper on April 27, one of the more senior officers to die in this way.

 

Image: A captured Ottoman sniper showing the highly effective camouflage techniques employed.
Credit: Imperial War Museum