William Scurry’s ‘Drip Rifle’ Helped the Allies to Evacuate Gallipoli
Troops rigged weapons to fire on their own
by MATTHEW MOSS
On Jan. 9, 1916, the disastrous Gallipoli campaign came to an end with the successful evacuation of the surviving Allied troops. The campaign had begun on April 15, 1915 and lasted eight months with no real gains for the Allies. The original objective of taking Constantinople proved impossible.
In October 1915 the British commander of the expedition, Gen. Ian Hamilton, was sacked. His replacement, Gen. Sir Charles Monro, recommended that the Allied expeditionary force quit Gallipoli.
The British government consented to the evacuation in December. Preparations for the mass departure got underway — including a peculiar “drip rifle” decoy that British commanders hoped would help to cover for the Allied troops’ withdrawal.
The Allied troops in the Suvla Bay and Anzac Cove sectors evacuated first, with the last soldiers leaving before dawn on Dec. 20, 1915. British commanders had worried that if the Ottomans realized the Allies were evacuating, they might inflict as many as 30,000 casualties on the retreating force.
So the Allies planned a series of deceptions to give the impression that the Allied lines were fully manned throughout the evacuation, including dummy artillery pieces and mannequins kitted out as infantrymen.
One of the more remarkable ruses was Australian Lance Cpl. William Scurry’s drip rifle.
The idea was to rig a rifle to fire as water dripped from a suspended can into a pan attached to the weapon’s trigger. Sandbags held the loaded rifle in place. A soldier punched a hole in the can before departing the line. In time, water would fill the lower pan and pull the trigger, giving the impression of a fully manned position.
Scurry’s ingenious invention made him locally famous and won him a Distinguished Conduct Medal and a promotion to sergeant. By the end of the war, he was a brevet captain and an artillery instructor. He went on to serve during World War II despite shrapnel wounds that eventually blinded him. He died in 1963 at the age of 68.
The Allies deployed Scurry’s drip rifle in the final hours of the Gallipoli evacuation on and around Jan. 9, 1916, as the last 2,000 men from the Newfoundland Regiment and the Plymouth Battalion of the Royal Marines Light Infantry finally withdrew.
The Dardanelles campaign claimed 252,000 Allied casualties and 220,000 deaths and injuries on the Ottoman side. But the evacuation went off with a hitch. Not a single Allied soldier died from enemy fire. The Allies succeeded in pulling out 35,268 men, 3,689 horses and mules, 127 guns, 328 vehicles and 1,600 tons of equipment and stores.
It was without doubt the best-executed part of the campaign — and one of the most brilliant large-scale evacuations ever. Scurry’s drip rifle had a hand in that success.