Şefik Bey* was born in 1877 in Monastir (Bitola), Macedonia, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. He was a professional Turkish solider who had already seen considerable military service before the First World War. He graduated from the Turkish Military Academy in 1896 and within a year saw action as a platoon commander in the Turkish–Greek War. He was made captain in 1900. Şefik spent two years in Yemen and became Deputy Staff Commander of the 14th Division before returning to Turkey, where he served in Ezine and Edremit. He fought in the 1911–12 Turkish–Italian War in Libya, and in the Balkan wars of 1912–13.
In 1914, war broke out and the Ottoman Empire was ostensibly neutral. However, despite Prime Minister Sait Halim’s desire that it remain so, Enver Pasha, the Ottoman Minister for War, signed a secret defence alliance with Germany. As tensions mounted in the Dardanelles, Enver ordered an attack on Russian naval bases in the Black Sea, prompting Russia to declare war on the Ottoman Empire on 2 November. The British Empire followed suit three days later.
*‘Bey’ is an honorific Turkish title for which there is no real equivalent in English. Used after the first name of most senior Ottomans, it conferred an informal status on civil and military officers. Similarly, 'Efendi’, analogous to sir, was given to lower ranks. There were no surnames for Turks at this time; surnames were introduced by President Kemal Ataturk in the early 1930s.
In the period before the Gallipoli landing, as the AIF and NZEF were training in Egypt, Şefik was in command of the 27th Regiment, 5th Ottoman Army. They were preparing defences and training in the Ari Burnu sector of the Gallipoli peninsula.
British and French naval operations attempting to secure the Dardanelles by ships alone had failed. The initial confidence of the Allies was shattered in a major attack on 18 March, when their warships encountered lines of mines laid in areas where the Ottomans had observed the ships manoeuvring during previous attacks. Three sank, three were put out of action and the remainder were hastily withdrawn. Known as the battle of Çanakkale, it was a significant victory for the Ottomans and still commemorated today. For the Anzacs, the foundations for their Gallipoli campaign began as their high command determined that a full landing was now required. Hamilton’s plan for 25 April involved simultaneous military landings in strategic locations along the western beaches. At the mouth of the Dardanelles Strait, British forces would land at Cape Helles on the southern tip of the Gallipoli peninsula, and French forces on the opposite shore at Kum Kale. The Anzacs would land further north along the peninsula, tasked to take control of the high ground, and thus secure the shoreline, before cutting through Turkish lines of communication to prevent reinforcements.
Meanwhile, the Ottomans began strengthening their defences. On 26 March, German General Liman von Sanders was appointed commander of the 5th Ottoman Army and given responsibility for the defence of the Dardanelles from both European and Asian approaches. He deployed two divisions (9th and 19th) on the Gallipoli peninsula. Initially, Şefik’s entire 27th Regiment, part of 9th Division, was stationed at Ari Burnu, near where the Anzacs would land. During that time they reinforced defences in the area, improved access roads, and dug trenches in strategic positions facing the coast. However, by April, 5th Army command concluded that the threat in that area was minimal. Hence, the 27th’s Regimental headquarters, its 1st and 3rd Battalions and a company of the 2nd Battalion moved over to the eastern side of the peninsula at Maidos, leaving only two companies (approximately 530 men) of the 2nd Battalion facing the Aegean in this area. This movement was also consistent with high command’s belief that any landings would be on either the eastern side or southern tip of the peninsula, rather than the west.
At 2 am on 25 April Anzac troops were silently climbing down ladders from their battleships and into landing boats; their invasion timed for a brief period of darkness before dawn. Just before the moon slipped below the horizon, Ottoman observers caught the first sight of the large body of ships, two kilometres off the coast.
Captain Faik Efendi, commander of 4th Company, reported the sighting to his battalion commander, Ismet Bey at Gaba Tepe, who responded that there was no cause for alarm and directed Faik to continue observation. Faik, judging that the ships were coming closer to shore, telephoned divisional headquarters direct. In the darkness, he was unable to ascertain how many vessels were warships and how many were transports, and as the moon set, visual contact was lost. Faik put his reserve platoon on alert but received no further instruction from headquarters.
By this time the first wave of 1,500 Anzacs was moving towards shore and Faik’s 265 men, dispersed at a number of points around the Ari Burnu sector, were roused to action. As they came under fire from the ships, they sheltered in the trenches dug earlier that year. They began to fire on the invading force.
At Maidos, almost nine kilometres from the coast, Şefik was alerted to the landing at 4.30 am, when he awoke to the sound of artillery fire from the direction of the western side of the peninsula. He and the rest of the 27th Regiment were caught at a disadvantage; they had returned to camp less than five hours before, after carrying out night exercises in Gaba Tepe. Şefik immediately rang the observation post at Gaba Tepe and was informed that ‘enemy troops were landing at Ari Burnu’. He roused his battalion commanders, ordering them to:
Assemble your men, call them to arms. They are to carry only combat gear. Have the men’s bread ration immediately distributed … When these preparations are completed report to me.
He awaited orders from divisional headquarters to move and when this was not forthcoming he rang headquarters himself. He was told to await orders. They waited, ready to march. Breakfast soup was issued to the men. Şefik could hear a hum that he recognised as the echo of intensive rifle and machine-gun fire and became agitated at the lack of action. He rang headquarters again. Still unsure whether the Ari Burnu landings were a diversionary tactic, Chief of Staff Hulusi Bey replied:
Şefik Bey! How do we know whether this landing is not merely a feint, with the real thing to come elsewhere? Before this becomes absolutely clear, how can we order you to move?’ Şefik replied, ‘For goodness sake, please [hurry]!
We could hear the roar of many rifles in the distance. We knew that this roar meant that just a handful of our comrades from the regiment, far from any help, were trying to do their duty under great hardships against an enemy with much superior numbers.
According to Şefik, his men inflicted heavy casualties on the troops in the boats but their positions were soon under attack from those who made it ashore. Some men retreated inland but many continued to fight the Anzacs in localised battles across the ravines, gullies and ridges before them. Meanwhile, Ismet Bey ordered the obsolete ‘mantili top’ gun at Gaba Tepe to open fire on vessels close to shore. The second wave of Anzacs landed under heavy fire, and the battleship artillery was unsuccessful against the well-concealed Gaba Tepe battery.
Captain Faik and other officers and NCOs were soon wounded and evacuated to the rear. At 5.20 am, Ismet Bey advised divisional headquarters that the landing was a major operation and urged them to send reinforcements. At 6.00 am, he deployed his reserve platoon to the area behind Ari Burnu at what the Ottomans called Kemal Yeri (Kemal’s Place) on Gunners Ridge, where it stemmed the Anzac advance in that area. The single gun on Gaba Tepe was also supported by howitzers firing onto the landing areas from Valonia Oaks ridge. This, according to Şefik, had a discernable impact on Anzac landing operations. Nevertheless, the situation at this time was critical for the Ottomans. Şefik estimated that by 6.00 am the Anzacs had 4,000 men ashore. He maintained that they had been opposed largely by two platoons of 4th Company, 27th Regiment (160 rifles) with no machine-guns and were by this time largely devastated. This had allowed the Anzacs to establish positions on high ground from Chunuk Bair to Gaba Tepe.
At 5.50 pm, Şefik finally received orders for his 1st and 3rd Battalions to march from Maidos to the Anzac landing area, a two-hour journey. His orders were to:
Take the mountain battery which is at Camburnu, halt the enemy landing which is being attempted between Ariburnu and Kaba Tepe, proceed to the Kaba Tepe area and throw [them] into the sea.
Most men of the 27th would have known the area well. They were, according to Şefik, farmers largely drawn from the immediate Gallipoli area or from Canakkale on the opposite side of the Dardanelles. He described them as well trained and good marksmen. Their morale was good. They were equipped with only basic weaponry, Mauser rifles and two grenades per squad. The regiment had four machine-guns but they were only deployed directly by the commander. Each man carried an entrenching tool.
They departed immediately, destined for the third ridge. As they crossed the narrow plain between Maidos and Gaba Tepe, Şefik feared they would come under attack from naval gunfire. He ordered them to march along different roads, avoiding the main road, in order to reduce the depth of the march column and pass quickly over the dangerous area. His strategy, coupled with good fortune and inability of Royal Navy observation officers to penetrate the morning haze, meant that they passed through unscathed.
Our situation on the march was precarious and dangerous, for the sun had risen and was beginning to get high in the sky …
We considered it our good fortune that although we had been in sight of the navy, the balloon and the aircraft for almost an hour they had not fired upon us. It is a curious fact that only when our marching column which was stretched out at such length reached Kavak Dere (valley east of Anderson Knoll) did the navy begin to fire behind us, traversing and sweeping over the plain which we had passed. But we did not know what target they were aiming at. It was quite certain that the navy did not know themselves, for they could not see any target on the plain behind us.
Meanwhile, reinforcements were also sought from 19th Division, the only other division deployed on the peninsula. Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Mustafa Kemal (later Atatürk), who was stationed near the village of Boghali, immediately grasped the severity of the situation. Though the message from command requested only one battalion, Kemal took the entire 57th Regiment. They were marching by 8 am.
By this stage, 8,000 Australians had landed and Şefik and his men were almost in position. At a vantage point, Şefik could see the advancing Anzacs and immediately occupied the strategic heights of the dominating third ridge above Anzac Cove. From there, he concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire from his limited number of guns with great effect, inflicting heavy casualties and impeding the supply of Anzac reinforcements. Although outnumbered, Şefik also ordered his 2,000 men to attack towards Plateau 400, Johnston’s Jolly, Mortar Ridge and Battleship Hill. At these locations, some Anzacs penetrated further inland than anyone would for the rest of the campaign and a few reached the original objective on the third ridge.
Şefik learnt of this objective when his men found maps on the dead. The following account describes the interaction when his men took their first prisoner, possibly from the 10th Battalion:
The tall young Australian was 22 years old. He was in perfect health and looked like a Western European. His uniform and equipment were impeccable. He spoke only English. Since [we] had no one who spoke that language, it was impossible to interrogate him. He seemed tired, but was very calm. To enable him to rest he was taken to a sheltered corner where he could sit and rest, out of immediate danger. One of the Turkish officers produced a cigarette and, with gestures, tried to find out if he would smoke. The young prisoner accepted the offer. He crossed his legs where he sat and smoked with obvious pleasure. He was completely at ease. At one moment the prisoner extracted from his pocket a handful of coins. He gave them to the Turkish soldier who had brought him in and was now standing watch over him. Şefik Bey immediately ordered the Turk to return all the coins. The Australian accepted them and, without a smile or any visible reaction, calmly returned them to his pocket. … [The prisoner was escorted] to Divisional Headquarters at Maidos.
Using the high ground to their advantage, and through movement, the clever use of cover and accurate fire, Şefik’s men took a heavy toll on the Anzacs. They pushed them back in several places, delaying their advance as they desperately awaited the arrival of further Ottoman reinforcements.
Outnumbered, short of ammunition and with his senior officers killed or wounded, Sub-Lieutenant Mucip Efendi took command of a platoon of the 27th and defended the regiment’s northern flank against Australian attacks.
Listen to his report to Şefik Bey on the first day’s fighting on Gallipoli:
Just after 10 am, Kemal and the 57th Regiment, almost at Chunuk Bair, encountered retreating Ottoman soldiers who had been defending Baby 700 but had run out of ammunition. He told them to turn around, fix bayonets and lay down, later reflecting, ‘[w]hen they did this and lay down, the enemy also lay down. That was the moment of time we gained.’ His next order became famous:
I don’t order you to attack, I order you to die. By the time we are dead, other units and commanders will have come to take our place.
Kemal’s arrival, just as the Ottoman line was about to collapse, enabled them to remain in possession of the main ridge and the heights and, as the sun lowered in the sky, the Ottomans also finally held Baby 700. The Anzacs clung to a narrow strip of hills across the lip of the second ridge at 400 Plateau, overlooking the landing beaches.
The Ottomans’ strong position came at a heavy price and the casualties in Şefik’s regiment amounted to 50 per cent on the first day. Faik returned to the front later that day to discover that only four of his platoon remained unharmed.
In mid May 1915, Enver Pasha, the Ottoman war minister, planned a massive attack against the Anzacs. Concerned about the lack of substantial artillery support, Şefik opposed the manoeuvre. He maintained that the Anzac sector was ‘a very tough nut to crack’, stating that while his men had often managed to enter his opponents’ trenches, the Anzacs were valiant, highly motivated and always fought back to re-capture lost trenches. He also cited the zigzag design of the Anzac trenches that allowed the defenders to protect all positions from flank attacks and the provision of support trenches that allowed them to fall back and continue fighting. The 19 May attacks, conducted with insufficient artillery support, were a disastrous failure with huge Ottoman loss of life. More than 3,000 Ottomans and approximately 160 Australians were killed during the offensive. Total Ottoman casualties were 10,000.
On 24 May, an armistice allowed both sides to bury their dead in no man’s land. This day marked a turning point for many soldiers as a sense of honour and respect united the enemies through their eight hours of silence.
One of Şefik’s pet aversions was the protective covering of trenches. In July, logs and beams were made available to Ottoman front-line units, but Şefik went against orders and banished engineers from the 27th’s lines when they arrived to install trench roofs. He criticised the decision to cover the trenches at Lone Pine, citing this as one of the main reasons the position was lost. He maintained that the bombardment of the covered trenches obliterated the loopholes, preventing the men below from firing on attackers, which allowed too many attackers to reach – and enter – the trenches. Şefik contrasted this failure with the success of his and other units that did not have covered trenches but nonetheless repelled the August attacks.
On 8 August 1915, following the promotion of Mustafa Kemal Bey to Commander of the Anafarta Army Group, Şefik replaced him as commander of the 19th Division. Towards the end of the Gallipoli campaign, Şefik recognised the ‘strange camaraderie’ that had developed between front-line troops of opposing sides and noted the spontaneous exchange of gifts that took place. The Ottomans threw over packets of Turkish cigarettes while the Anzacs threw tins of marmalade, jam and corned beef. At times, friendly letters were also exchanged. In December, Şefik was still in the Ari Burnu sector as the Anzacs successfully completed their evacuation from Gallipoli, leaving booby traps and rifles triggered to fire through a system of weights and counterweights that convinced the Ottomans that the Anzac front line was occupied.
After the Anzac withdrawal, for political reasons, some of the best Ottoman units were sent to support their allies on the Eastern Front, where they performed well. From July 1916, Şefik commanded the 19th Division supporting the Austrians against the Russians in Galicia. There, he again argued against orders to cover his trenches, claiming that in Galicia, as on Gallipoli, this made front-line troops ‘sitting ducks’. Austro-Hungarian high command accepted his reasoning. A year later he was promoted to colonel in command of the 57th Infantry Division, with the Yildirim Army Group in the Middle East.
Şefik survived the war. When surnames were introduced for Turks by President Kemal Atatürk in the early 1930s, Şefik became known as Şefik Bey Aker.
After the First World War ended, Şefik was quick to realise that Turkey would be involved in a war of independence in order to reclaim territory given to Greece during the partitioning of the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish–Greek War began in 1919. Şefik was involved in the organisation of local militia and served in the new Turkish army as a colonel commanding the 57th Infantry Regiment. On 29–30 June 1919, the 57th captured Aydin, the first success for the Turks against the invading Greeks. In June 1920, Şefik was made south front commander of the Izmir region, and on 4 October 1920 commander of the 57th Division. The war ended in 1922 and Şefik retired from the army in 1931 at his own request.
In 1935, Şefik produced a small book entitled Canakkale - Ariburnu savaslari ve 27 alay (The Dardanelles - The Ariburnu Battles and the 27th Regiment), an account of his beloved 27th Regiment, the first to encounter the Anzacs.
Şefik died in Istanbul on 6 February 1964, aged 90 years old.
In 2006, Şefik’s book on the 57th Division entitled 57 nci Tümen ve Aydın Milli mücadelesi (57th Division and Aydin national struggle) was translated into English.
Ataksor 2014, Major Halis, viewed 5 May 2014, <http://ataksor.com/?page_id=8>
Axis Forum 2006, Turkish 27th Infantry Regiment of Gallipoli, viewed 2 May 2014, <http://forum.axishistory.com/viewtopic.php?f=80&t=100422>
Danişman, HB 2007, Gallipoli 1915: 27th Ottoman Inf. Regt. vs ANZAC's based on the account of Lt. Col. Şefik Aker, Commander of the 27th Inf. Regt, Denizler Kitavevi, Istanbul
Cameron, D 2008 ‘Gallipoli: A Turkish View’ in Wartime, vol. 42, pp. 24-27
Fewster, K, Başarin, H and Başarin, HH 1985, A Turkish view of Gallipoli: Çanakkale, Hodja, Richmond, Victoria
Hart, P 2011, Gallipoli, Profile Books, London
Macquarie University 2014, Bios of Turkish/German Participants, viewed 1 October 2014, <http://www.mq.edu.au/about_us/faculties_and_departments/faculty_of_arts/mhpir/modern_history/research/gallipoli_centenary_research_project/bios_of_turkishgerman_participants/>
Örnek, T and Feza Toker, F 2006, Gallipoli: the front line experience, Currency Press, Strawberry Hills, NSW