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First Battle of Gaza

First Battle of Gaza

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The First Battle of Gaza was fought in and around the town of Gaza
Gaza
Gaza , also referred to as Gaza City, is a Palestinian city in the Gaza Strip, with a population of about 450,000, making it the largest city in the Palestinian territories.Inhabited since at least the 15th century BC,...

 on the Mediterranean coast in the southern region of Ottoman Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 on 26 March 1917, during World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

. This British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

 defeat marked the beginning of the Palestine
Palestine
Palestine is a conventional name, among others, used to describe the geographic region between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and various adjoining lands....

 section of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign
Sinai and Palestine Campaign
The Sinai and Palestine Campaigns took place in the Middle Eastern Theatre of World War I. A series of battles were fought between British Empire, German Empire and Ottoman Empire forces from 26 January 1915 to 31 October 1918, when the Armistice of Mudros was signed between the Ottoman Empire and...

 which would eventually see the British capture the whole region despite a second defeat at Gaza.

In August 1916 the British Empire
British Empire
The British Empire comprised the dominions, colonies, protectorates, mandates and other territories ruled or administered by the United Kingdom. It originated with the overseas colonies and trading posts established by England in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. At its height, it was the...

's Egyptian Expeditionary Force
Egyptian Expeditionary Force
The Egyptian Expeditionary Force was formed in March 1916 to command the British and British Empire military forces in Egypt during World War I. Originally known as the 'Force in Egypt' it had been commanded by General Maxwell who was recalled to England...

's ANZAC Mounted Division
Anzac Mounted Division
The ANZAC Mounted Division was a mounted infantry and mounted rifles division formed in March 1916 in Egypt during World War I following the Battle of Gallipoli when the Australian and New Zealand regiments returned from fighting dismounted as infantry...

 and the 52nd (Lowland) Division had gained a victory at the Battle of Romani
Battle of Romani
The Battle of Romani was fought east of the Suez Canal, near the Egyptian town of Romani and the site of ancient Pelusium on the Sinai Peninsula during the First World War...

, which secured the Suez Canal
Suez Canal
The Suez Canal , also known by the nickname "The Highway to India", is an artificial sea-level waterway in Egypt, connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Opened in November 1869 after 10 years of construction work, it allows water transportation between Europe and Asia without navigation...

. The newly created Desert Column
Desert Mounted Corps
The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I Allied army corps that operated in the Middle East during 1917 and 1918.Originally formed on 15 March 1916 as the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division under the command of Major General Harry Chauvel The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I...

's mounted troops won a victory in December at the Battle of Magdhaba
Battle of Magdhaba
The Battle of Magdhaba took place on 23 December 1916 south and east of Bir Lahfan in the Sinai desert, some inland from the Mediterranean coast and the town of El Arish...

, which secured the Mediterranean port of El Arish and the Allied supply route, water pipeline, and railway stretching from the Suez Canal. In January 1917 Desert Column
Desert Mounted Corps
The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I Allied army corps that operated in the Middle East during 1917 and 1918.Originally formed on 15 March 1916 as the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division under the command of Major General Harry Chauvel The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I...

, which included the Anzac Mounted Division, had won the Battle of Rafa
Battle of Rafa
The Battle of Rafa took place on 9 January 1917 at el Magruntein to the south of Rafa, close to the frontier between the Sultanate of Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and the Ottoman Empire, and in the area to the north and east of Sheikh Zowaiid...

, completing the recapture of the Egypt
Egypt
Egypt , officially the Arab Republic of Egypt, Arabic: , is a country mainly in North Africa, with the Sinai Peninsula forming a land bridge in Southwest Asia. Egypt is thus a transcontinental country, and a major power in Africa, the Mediterranean Basin, the Middle East and the Muslim world...

ian Sinai Peninsula
Sinai Peninsula
The Sinai Peninsula or Sinai is a triangular peninsula in Egypt about in area. It is situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, and is the only part of Egyptian territory located in Asia as opposed to Africa, effectively serving as a land bridge between two...

.

The force which attacked Gaza included Desert Column's two mounted divisions which were to protect the infantry attack from Ottoman reinforcements and to support the infantry attack, if necessary. The infantry force was made up of one division from Desert Column which was reinforced by one infantry brigade
Brigade
A brigade is a major tactical military formation that is typically composed of two to five battalions, plus supporting elements depending on the era and nationality of a given army and could be perceived as an enlarged/reinforced regiment...

 from Eastern Force. They launched their attack on the Ottoman garrison in and around the town, but it became difficult to advance. While the Imperial Mounted Division held off the Ottoman reinforcements, the ANZAC Mounted Division reinforced the infantry attack and together, they succeeded in entering Gaza from the north and capturing Ali Muntar. However strong Ottoman defences, and the threat from large Ottoman reinforcements approaching from the north and north east, which may not have been held off indefinitely by the depleted mounted screen, were probably responsible for the decision to withdraw. It has been suggested the withdrawal snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

Background


Allied operations in the Middle East
Middle East
The Middle East is a region that encompasses Western Asia and Northern Africa. It is often used as a synonym for Near East, in opposition to Far East...

 were at this time, secondary to the Western Front
Western Front (World War I)
Following the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the German Army opened the Western Front by first invading Luxembourg and Belgium, then gaining military control of important industrial regions in France. The tide of the advance was dramatically turned with the Battle of the Marne...

 and the reinforcements General Sir Archibald Murray
Archibald Murray
General Sir Archibald James Murray, GCMG, KCB, CVO, DSO was a British Army officer during World War I, most famous for his commanding the Egyptian Expeditionary Force from 1916 to 1917.-Army career:...

, commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force
Egyptian Expeditionary Force
The Egyptian Expeditionary Force was formed in March 1916 to command the British and British Empire military forces in Egypt during World War I. Originally known as the 'Force in Egypt' it had been commanded by General Maxwell who was recalled to England...

 had requested, were denied. Instead he was required by the Chief of the Imperial General Staff Field Marshal
Field Marshal
Field Marshal is a military rank. Traditionally, it is the highest military rank in an army.-Etymology:The origin of the rank of field marshal dates to the early Middle Ages, originally meaning the keeper of the king's horses , from the time of the early Frankish kings.-Usage and hierarchical...

 William Robertson to be ready to send possibly two infantry division
Division (military)
A division is a large military unit or formation usually consisting of between 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers. In most armies, a division is composed of several regiments or brigades, and in turn several divisions typically make up a corps...

s to France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. On 17 January 1917, Murray received the request for one division to be sent to France and he chose the British 42nd Division.

At the same time Murray was promised that he would not loose any of his mounted troops, but the War Cabinet
War Cabinet
A War Cabinet is a committee formed by a government in a time of war. It is usually a subset of the full executive cabinet of ministers. It is also quite common for a War Cabinet to have senior military officers and opposition politicians as members....

 deferred large scale operations in Palestine until the autumn. However, Murray was not discouraged from employing his current force as he saw fit.

Britain's three major war objectives at the time were to maintain maritime supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea
Mediterranean Sea
The Mediterranean Sea is a sea connected to the Atlantic Ocean surrounded by the Mediterranean region and almost completely enclosed by land: on the north by Anatolia and Europe, on the south by North Africa, and on the east by the Levant...

, while preserving the balance of power in Europe, and the security of Egypt, India, and the Persian Gulf. The latter could be secured by an advance into the Ottoman Empire
Ottoman Empire
The Ottoman EmpireIt was usually referred to as the "Ottoman Empire", the "Turkish Empire", the "Ottoman Caliphate" or more commonly "Turkey" by its contemporaries...

 to capture Jerusalem and ultimately cut off the Ottoman forces
Military of the Ottoman Empire
The history of military of the Ottoman Empire can be divided in five main periods. The foundation era covers the years between 1300 and 1453 , the classical period covers the years between 1451 and 1606 , the reformation period covers the years between 1606 and 1826 ,...

 in Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia
Mesopotamia is a toponym for the area of the Tigris–Euphrates river system, largely corresponding to modern-day Iraq, northeastern Syria, southeastern Turkey and southwestern Iran.Widely considered to be the cradle of civilization, Bronze Age Mesopotamia included Sumer and the...

 and on the Arabian Peninsula
Arabian Peninsula
The Arabian Peninsula is a land mass situated north-east of Africa. Also known as Arabia or the Arabian subcontinent, it is the world's largest peninsula and covers 3,237,500 km2...

. As a first step, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force was required to capture the stronghold of Gaza, which dominated the southern coastal route and encouragingly, just prior to the Gaza battle, on March 20 the Ottoman Army was considered to be "steadily deteriorating." During the period between the victory at Rafa and the end of February 70 deserters entered the British lines; a small proportion of the majority of Arabs and Syrians whom it was believed, disappeared from the Ottoman army, into the towns and villages of Palestine and Transjordan.

Occupation of Rafa and mounted troops reorganised


Lieutenant General Dobell the commander of the Eastern Force considered that the victory at Rafa should be quickly exploited by attacking Gaza – "an early surprise attack was essential ... otherwise it was widely believed the enemy would withdraw without a fight."

After the Rafa attack, Ottoman forces at first withdrew to Shellal
Shellal
Shellal is a small ancient village on the banks of the Nile, south of Aswan in Egypt. It was the traditional north frontier of the Nubian region with both the Egyptian Empire and the Roman Empire. During the period of ancient Egypt it was a very important quarry area for granite production...

 but by 5 March they were found to be withdrawing 14 miles (22.5 km) to the north and north east, back Gaza and Tell esh Sheria where the railway to Beersheba
Beersheba
Beersheba is the largest city in the Negev desert of southern Israel. Often referred to as the "Capital of the Negev", it is the seventh-largest city in Israel with a population of 194,300....

 crossed the Wadi esh Sheria. Bombing attacks were carried out by the Royal Flying Corps
Royal Flying Corps
The Royal Flying Corps was the over-land air arm of the British military during most of the First World War. During the early part of the war, the RFC's responsibilities were centred on support of the British Army, via artillery co-operation and photographic reconnaissance...

 (RFC) on Beersheba, Tell esh Sheria 12 miles (19.3 km) to the north west, and on the junction of the Beersheba and Jaffa–Jerusalem lines.

Dobell ordered Rafa occupied by mounted troops while two divisions of Eastern Force were to be kept at El Arish where he moved his headquarters. However, a pause in the advance was necessary to enable the lines of communication
Lines of Communication
"Lines of Communication" is an episode from the fourth season of the science-fiction television series Babylon 5.-Synopsis:Franklin and Marcus attempt to persuade the Mars resistance to assist Sheridan in opposing President Clark...

 to be lengthened and strengthened, and while this work was being done, the mounted troops were reorganised into two division.

This reorganisation was prompted by the arrival of 6th and 22nd Mounted Brigades from the Salonika campaign
Macedonian front (World War I)
The Macedonian Front resulted from an attempt by the Allied Powers to aid Serbia, in the autumn of 1915, against the combined attack of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Bulgaria. The expedition came too late and in insufficient force to prevent the fall of Serbia, and was complicated by the internal...

. Instead of grouping the two new brigades with the 4th Light Horse Brigade, in the process of formation at Ferry Post (planned to leave on 18 March for the front) and the 5th Mounted Brigade to form the Imperial Mounted Division, the ANZAC Mounted Division was broken up. Their 3rd Light Horse Brigade
3rd Light Horse Brigade
The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was a mounted infantry brigade of the First Australian Imperial Force which served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I....

 was transferred to the Imperial Mounted Division (established 12 February 1917 at Ferry Post on the Suez Canal under the command of Major-General H.W. Hodgson) while the newly arrived 22nd Mounted Brigade was attached to the ANZAC Mounted Division.

Lines of communication


As a result of the advance to Rafa and the lengthening of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force's lines of communication along the coast these now overlapped with the Ottoman lines of communication further inland and it was necessary to strongly garrison this territory.
By the end of February 1917, 388 miles (624.4 km) of railway had been laid (at a rate of 1 kilometre a day), 203 miles (326.7 km) of metalled road, 86 miles (138.4 km) of wire and brushwood roads and 300 miles (482.8 km) of water pipeline had been constructed. By 1 March railhead had reached Sheikh Zowaiid 30 miles (48.3 km) from Gaza and the Rafa railway station opened on 21 March, but apparently not in time to be used during the first attack on Gaza, and railhead had reached Khan Yunis
Khan Yunis
Khan Yunis - often spelt Khan Younis or Khan Yunnis - is a city and adjacent refugee camp in the southern part of the Gaza Strip. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics the city, its refugee camp, and its immediate surroundings had a total population of 180,000 in 2006...

 where almost unlimited supplies of water were discovered and exploited. There was however insufficient transport to support operations at any considerable distance from railhead. The Egyptian Camel Transport Corps
Egyptian Camel Transport Corps
The Egyptian Camel Transport Corps were a group of Egyptian camel drivers who supported the British Army in Egypt during the First World War's Sinai and Palestine Campaign...

 was augmented with horse drawn wagon trains by the infantry divisions.

British Empire transport


In January the War Office
War Office
The War Office was a department of the British Government, responsible for the administration of the British Army between the 17th century and 1964, when its functions were transferred to the Ministry of Defence...

 had agreed to the infantry divisions being re-equipped with wheeled transport trains instead of camel transport on the condition that the personnel should be found locally as none were available from elsewhere. Transport was reorganised so that the horse and mule-drawn supply columns were combined with the camel trains to support Eastern Force operating for about 24 hours beyond railhead. This was a vast undertaking as one brigade (and there were six involved in the attack on Gaza) of light horse, mounted rifles and yeomanry at war establishment, consisted of approximately 2,000 soldiers as well as the division of infantry; all requiring sustenance.

The wagons of the ANZAC Mounted Division were pulled by teams of mules, two in the pole and three in the lead, driven by one man from the box. These wagons and mules did such excellent service that the five-mule team was laid down for the Egyptian Expeditionary Force and they ultimately almost superseded the British four or six horse ride-and-drive teams.

Prelude


After the 42nd Division left for the Western Front, Eastern Force (command of Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General
Lieutenant General is a military rank used in many countries. The rank traces its origins to the Middle Ages where the title of Lieutenant General was held by the second in command on the battlefield, who was normally subordinate to a Captain General....

 Sir Charles Dobell) consisted of the 52nd (Lowland) Division, the 53rd (Welsh) Division, the 54th (East Anglian) Division, and the newly formed 74th (Yeomanry) Division of dismounted yeomanry
Yeomanry
Yeomanry is a designation used by a number of units or sub-units of the British Territorial Army, descended from volunteer cavalry regiments. Today, Yeomanry units may serve in a variety of different military roles.-History:...

 already in Egypt, the ANZAC Mounted Division and the partly formed Imperial Mounted Divisions. Within Dobell's Eastern Force, General Philip Chetwode, commanded the Desert Column, which included the two mounted divisions and the 53rd (Welsh) Division. This latter infantry division was required to attack Gaza with one brigade of Eastern Force's 54th Division.

This was the first time infantry took a prominent part in a battle in this theatre of the war since the Defence of the Suez Canal and the Battle of Romani
Battle of Romani
The Battle of Romani was fought east of the Suez Canal, near the Egyptian town of Romani and the site of ancient Pelusium on the Sinai Peninsula during the First World War...

. They were responsible for the main attack on Gaza and the adjoining hill of Ali Muntar while Desert Column and the remainder of Eastern Force's 54th (East Anglian) Division were to defend the battleground from incursions and if necessary the mounted divisions were to reinforce the infantry attack.

By the middle of March the railway had reached Rafa, 12 miles (19.3 km) from Deir el Belah and the Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 undertook to land stores as soon as required on the beach at Deir el Belah, which was within range for an attack on Gaza by mounted troops and infantry. On 20 March Dobell moved his headquarters from El Arish to Rafa. On 22 March preliminary moves prior to the attack on Gaza began, and all possible roads and tracks for wheels were carefully reconnoitred as far as Deir el Belah and allotted to the different formations. On 24 March, Dobell issued orders for the attack.

Attacking force


For the engagement Dobell organised Eastern Force as follows:
Desert Column
Desert Mounted Corps
The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I Allied army corps that operated in the Middle East during 1917 and 1918.Originally formed on 15 March 1916 as the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division under the command of Major General Harry Chauvel The Desert Mounted Corps was a World War I...

 – Lieutenant-General Philip Chetwode

53rd (Welsh) Division – Major-General Dallas
158th Infantry Brigade– Brigadier General
Brigadier General
Brigadier general is a senior rank in the armed forces. It is the lowest ranking general officer in some countries, usually sitting between the ranks of colonel and major general. When appointed to a field command, a brigadier general is typically in command of a brigade consisting of around 4,000...

 H. A. Vernon
159th Infantry Brigade
159th Infantry Brigade (United Kingdom)
.The 159th Infantry Brigade was a motorised infantry brigade of the British Army during World War II.- History :The creation of the 11th Armoured Division was part of the British answer to the success of German panzer divisions in the previous years...

– Brigadier General N. Money
160th Infantry Brigade– Brigadier General V. L. N. Pearson

ANZAC Mounted Division – Major-General Henry Chauvel
2nd Light Horse Brigade
2nd Light Horse Brigade
The 2nd Light Horse Brigade was a mounted infantry brigade of the First Australian Imperial Force which served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I. The brigade first saw action during the Dardanelles Campaign in the Battle of Gallipoli. After being withdrawn to Egypt in February 1916 they...

 – Brigadier General Granville Ryrie
Granville Ryrie
Major General Sir Granville de Laune Ryrie KCMG, CB, VD was an Australian soldier and politician who served in the Second Boer War and the First World War.-Early life:...

5th, 6th and 7th Light Horse Regiments
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade
The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, consisting usually of four units of mounted infantry, fought in World War I and World War II. Initially a milita, under the instruction of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Henry Banks they formed the core of the New Zealand Army following successful service in the...

 – Brigadier General Edward Chaytor
Edward Chaytor
Major General Sir Edward Walter Clervaux Chaytor KCMG, KCVO, CB was a farmer, and a military commander of New Zealand troops in the Boer War and World War I....

Auckland
Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment
The Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment was a New Zealand Mounted Regiment formed for service during World War I. It was formed from units of the Territorial Foirce consisting of the 3rd Mounted Rifles the 4th Mounted Rifles and the 11th Mounted Rifles.They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of...

, Canterbury
Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment
The Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment was a New Zealand Mounted Regiment formed for service during World War I.It was formed from Units of the Territorial Force consisting of one squadron each from the 1st Mounted Rifles , the 8th Mounted Rifles and the 10th Mounted Rifles.They served in the...

 and Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment
Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment
The Wellington Mounted Regiment was a New Zealand Mounted Regiment formed for service during the Great War. It was formed from units of the Territorial Force consisting of the Queen Alexandra's 2nd Mounted Rifles the 6th Mounted Rifles and 9th Mounted Rifles.They served in the Middle Eastern...

s
22nd Mounted Yeomanry Brigade – Brigadier General Fryer
1/1st Lincolnshire Yeomanry
Lincolnshire Yeomanry
The Lincolnshire Yeomanry was a volunteer cavalry unit of the British Army from 1794–1920.-Boer War:On 13 December 1899, the decision to allow volunteer forces serve in the Second Boer War was made...

1/1st Staffordshire Yeomanry
Staffordshire Yeomanry
The Staffordshire Yeomanry was a unit of the British Army.Raised in 1794 following Prime Minister William Pitt's order to raise volunteer bodies of men to defend Great Britain from foreign invasion, the Staffordshire Yeomanry began as volunteer cavalry regiment. It first served overseas at the...

1/1st East Riding Yeomanry
Imperial Mounted Division
Australian Mounted Division
The Australian Mounted Division was a mounted infantry division formed in Egypt during World War I. When the British forces in the Middle East expanded in late 1916, a second mounted division was created called the Imperial Mounted Division...

 (less 4th Light Horse Brigade) – Major General Hodgson
3rd Light Horse Brigade
3rd Light Horse Brigade
The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was a mounted infantry brigade of the First Australian Imperial Force which served in the Middle Eastern theatre of World War I....

 – Brigadier General Royston
8th, 9th and 10th Light Horse Regiments
5th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade – Brigadier General P. D. Fitzgerald
Gloucestershire Hussars, Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry Regiments
6th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade
Dorset
Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry
The Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry was founded as the Dorsetshire Regiment of Volunteer Yeomanry Cavalry in 1794. In response to the growing threat of invasion during the Napoleonic wars....

, Bucks and Berks Yeomanry Regiments


Eastern Force Troops
Imperial Camel Corps Brigade – Brigadier General S. Smith

52nd (Lowland) Division – Major General W.E.B. Smith
155th Infantry Brigade
156th Infantry Brigade
157th Infantry Brigade

54th (East Anglian) Division – Major General S.W. Hare
161st Infantry Brigade
162nd Infantry Brigade
163rd Infantry Brigade

74th (Yeomanry) Division – Major General E.S. Girdwood
229th Infantry Brigade

No. 7 Light Car Patrol
Nos. 11 and 12 Armoured Motor Batteries

5th Wing Royal Flying Corps
No. 1 Squadron Australian Flying Corps
No. 14 Squadron Royal Flying Corps


Artillery
  • A. & N.Z. Mounted Division 4 Batteries Royal Horse Artillery
    Royal Horse Artillery
    The regiments of the Royal Horse Artillery , dating from 1793, are part of the Royal Regiment of Artillery of the British Army...

     (RHA) of 4 X 18–pdrs = 16 guns
  • Imperial Mounted Division 4 Batteries RHA of 4 X 18–pdrs = 16 guns
  • Imperial Camel Brigade 1 Camel Pack Battery of 6 X 2.75-inch = 6 guns
  • 53rd Division (3 Brigades RFA 12 18–pdrs=24 guns) 4 of each battery only = 16 guns; 4 X 4.5-inch howitzers = 8 howitzer
  • 54th Division (3 Brigades RFA 12 18–pdrs=24 guns) 4 of each battery only = 16 guns; 4 X 4.5-inch howitzers = 8 howitzer
  • Army Troops (3 Batteries of 4 X 60–pdrs=12 guns) one section only = 6 guns.


Desert Column was supported by Eastern Force's Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, the 54th Infantry Division, less one brigade back on the Suez Canal Defences, No. 7 Light Car Patrol and 5th Wing Royal Flying Corps. One brigade of 74th Yeomanry Division (only partly established) and Nos 11 and 12 Armoured Motor Batteries remained directly under the command of General Dobell.

This large force of 22,000 consisted of the attack force of 12,000 infantry with between 36 and 96 field guns and 16 howitzers, supported by 11,000 mounted troops who were required to cut off Gaza from Ottoman Army reinforcements located nearby at Tel el Sheria, Jemmameh, Hareira, Negile, Huj, and Beersheba.

The 52nd (Lowland) Division remained at Rafa providing 8,000 men to protect the lines of communication
Lines of Communication
"Lines of Communication" is an episode from the fourth season of the science-fiction television series Babylon 5.-Synopsis:Franklin and Marcus attempt to persuade the Mars resistance to assist Sheridan in opposing President Clark...

, the Wadi el Arish crossing and covering Khan Yunis from an attack on the flank
Flanking maneuver
In military tactics, a flanking maneuver, also called a flank attack, is an attack on the sides of an opposing force. If a flanking maneuver succeeds, the opposing force would be surrounded from two or more directions, which significantly reduces the maneuverability of the outflanked force and its...

. This Division had seen action at the Battle of Romani
Battle of Romani
The Battle of Romani was fought east of the Suez Canal, near the Egyptian town of Romani and the site of ancient Pelusium on the Sinai Peninsula during the First World War...

 but was too far away from Gaza to take any part in the attack.

Medical support


The evacuation of the wounded had been developed after the Battle of Romani
Battle of Romani
The Battle of Romani was fought east of the Suez Canal, near the Egyptian town of Romani and the site of ancient Pelusium on the Sinai Peninsula during the First World War...

 with particular care being taken with the development of rail transport and the medical situation at the time of the advance to El Arish was –
At railhead the immobile sections of divisional field ambulances with accommodation for 700 casualties
At Bir el Abd No. 24 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) accommodating 400 cases, Nos. 53 and 54 CCS to accommodation 200 each were parked.
At Bir el Mazar No. 26 CCS with accommodation for 400 cases
At Mahamdiyah No. 2 (Australian) Stationary Hospital with 800 beds
At Kantara East No. 24 Stationary Hospital with 800 beds.


In addition two hospital trains were available on the Sinai railway.

Defending force



During early March Gaza had been held by two battalions and two batteries but by the time of the British Empire attack that had grown. The total garrison of seven battalions at Gaza was made up as follows –

Defending Gaza (Group Tiller)
79th Infantry Regiment
81st Infantry Regiment(2nd Battalion)
125th Infantry Regiment

Reinforcements advancing from Sheria (10,000 to 12,000)
3rd Infantry Division
31st Infantry Regiment
32nd Infantry Regiment

16th Infantry Division
47th Infantry Regiment
48th Infantry Regiment


The Ottoman 53rd Division which had been garrisoning Jaffa
Jaffa
Jaffa is an ancient port city believed to be one of the oldest in the world. Jaffa was incorporated with Tel Aviv creating the city of Tel Aviv-Yafo, Israel. Jaffa is famous for its association with the biblical story of the prophet Jonah.-Etymology:...

 was ordered to move down the coast towards Gaza while Kress von Kressenstein moved his headquarters from Beersheba to Tell esh Sheria.The regiment of the 16th Infantry Division was included by Erickson in the reinforcements.

Included in the artillery were two Austro–Hungarian howitzers batteries of 12 heavy mountain howitzers and a German 10-cm. battery of two long guns from Pasha I together with two Ottoman field artillery batteries.

Ottoman Army positions


When the First World War began Gaza was an important depot for cereals; the town had a German steam mill, barley, wheat, olives, vineyards, orange groves and wood for fuel were grown as well as many goats grazed. Barley was exported to England for brewing into beer and in 1912 the 40,000 inhabitants of Gaza imported £10,000 of yarn from Manchester. Maize, millet, beans and water melon all harvested in early autumn were cultivated in the area of Rafa, Khan Yunis, Sheikh Zowaiid and Gaza.

For millennia the town of Gaza (completely rebuilt in 98BC, mentioned during 1,400BC in the Tell el Amarna tablets
Amarna letters
The Amarna letters are an archive of correspondence on clay tablets, mostly diplomatic, between the Egyptian administration and its representatives in Canaan and Amurru during the New Kingdom...

) had been the gateway for invading armies travelling the coastal route to and from Egypt and the Levant. To prevent a modern, mobile army from out-flanking the Gaza fortress, the Ottomans held their main forces totalling between two and a half and three divisions estimated between 6,000 and 16,000 rifles at Tel el Negile and Huj
Huj
Huj was a Palestinian Arab village located northeast of Gaza City. Identified as the site of the ancient Philistine town of Oga, the modern village was founded by the Ottomans in the early 19th century....

 with detachments at Gaza, Tel el Sheria, Jemmameh, Hareira and Beersheba. By the eve of this battle there were probably 4,000 rifles defending the town, supported by two Austrian howitzer batteries (12 howitzers) and a German 10 cm battery (two guns) with up to 50 guns in the surrounding area, while a force of 2,000 rifles was at Beersheba.
Between Rafa and Gaza east of the coastal sand dunes is a gently rolling plateau of light, firm soil rising slowly inland which is crossed by several dry wadis which become torrential flows in the rainy season. In the spring, after the winter rains, the area is covered by young crops or fresh grass.

Gaza and the surrounding areas strongly favoured defence; the town being located on a plateau 200 feet (61 m) high which is separated from the Mediterranean Sea by about 2 miles (3.2 km) of sand hills to the west, while to the north, west and south orchards surrounded by impenetrable prickly pear hedges extended out for some 3 –. With the exception of the ridge extending southwards, which culminated in the dominating 300 feet (91.4 m) high Ali Muntar, the area of orchards stretched from the high plateau down in to a hollow.

In addition to these natural defences, the Ottoman Army constructed trenches and redoubt
Redoubt
A redoubt is a fort or fort system usually consisting of an enclosed defensive emplacement outside a larger fort, usually relying on earthworks, though others are constructed of stone or brick. It is meant to protect soldiers outside the main defensive line and can be a permanent structure or a...

s that extended from the south west of the town virtually all the way round the town, except for a gap to the north east. They built additional defences on the ridge to the south of the town, which incorporated Ali Muntar into the town entrenchments.See Sketch Map "Position of attacking infantry and mounted divisions at about 09:30." Although the trenches were only lightly strengthened with barbed wire, those to the south of Gaza commanded bare slopes which were completely devoid of any cover whatsoever.

Plan of attack


The attack plan produced by Dobell and his staff was similar to those successfully implemented at Magdhaba by Chauvel and at Rafa by Chetwode. Gaza was to be surrounded and stormed before the Ottoman Army could bring up reinforcements. Once more the attackers could expect a determined defence from Ottoman soldiers established in formidable fortified entrenchments and redoubts but on a larger scale.

The main attack on Gaza would come from the south by the 53rd Division commanded by Major General Dallas, supported by one brigade of 54th Division commanded by Major General Hare. The remaining brigade of 54th Division would protect the battleground from incursion to the southeast at the southern end of the mounted screen. Formed by the two mounted divisions, which would circle around Gaza to the north and east to isolate the garrison, this screen would cut the main roads to the north and east to stop Ottoman reinforcements reaching the town from nearby garrisons at Hareira, Beersheba and Huj.

Plan of defence



Kress von Kressenstein, commander of the Ottoman First Expeditionary Force, was aware of the British concentration from aerial reconnaissance by the 300th Flight Detachment in the second half of March. He increased the garrison at Gaza by a regiment of the 16th Division and other infantry together with two Austro–Hungarian howitzers batteries (12 heavy mountain howitzers) and a German 10-cm. battery (two long guns).

However, he deployed most of his 4th Army force away from Gaza. British intelligence had assessed that they would not fight hard for Gaza because Kress von Kressenstein's plan was to use the 3rd and 16th Infantry Divisions and the 3rd Cavalry Division to encircle the attacking force and cut the Sinai railway and water pipeline in the rear of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. A total of 12,000 out of the available 16,000 Ottoman soldiers, were moving west to attack by nightfall on the day of battle, the British right flank which would not be in prepared defences, once they had been lured into a vulnerable position for envelopment.

Attacking force moves on 25 March


On 25 March, the ANZAC Mounted Division moved out of their bivouacs in two columns. The first column consisting of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles and 22nd Mounted Yeomanry Brigades marched up the beach from Bir Abu Shunnar at 02:30 and went out in front to establish a line just south of the Wadi Ghuzzeh. This movement was to cover reconnaissances to find the best place to cross the deep, dry wadi; a formidable obstacle for both infantry and mounted troops in their advance on Gaza. The second column consisting of ANZAC Mounted Division Headquarters, Signal Squadron, Field Artillery and 2nd Light Horse Brigade (divisional reserve) arrived 3/4 mi south west of Deir el Belah, when the 2nd Light Horse Brigade and the artillery were ordered to water and bivouac at Deir el Belah. Both Chauvel and Chetwode had by 10:00 established their divisional and column headquarters on Hill 310.

While the Ottoman army positions at Gaza had been reconnoitred and photographed from the air, it was still necessary for the ANZAC and Imperial Mounted Divisional staffs and the Commander Royal Artillery (CRA) to carry out these reconnaissances of the Wadi Ghuzzeh. In the afternoon the crossings were carefully reconnoitred and the crossing over the Wadi finally chosen and marked, was near the Wadi Sharta.

At 15:30 the Imperial Mounted Division led by the 3rd Light Horse Brigade marched out of camp at Marakeb heading for Deir el Belah about six hours or 18 miles (29 km) away. The brigades and their machine gun squadrons were accompanied by their mobile veterinary sections and the 3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance. The troops had been supplied with their rations for the day while the rations for 26 and 27 March were to be brought forward during the night of 25/26 March by the first line transport of camels and horse or mule drawn wagons. As it was expected the division would be away five days, accompanying the division to Deir el Belah, were additional rations carried on improvised packs.

The ANZAC and Imperial Mounted and the 54th Divisions' orders were handed to divisional commanders at 17:00. Dallas' orders directed the infantry division's 158th and 160th Brigades to begin crossing the Wadi Ghuzzeh at 03:30 and advance up the Burjabye and Es Sire ridges while the 159th Brigade was to follow the 158th across the wadi and remain there until further orders were received. The mounted divisions were to isolate Gaza by stopping the garrison retiring and stopping any reinforcements from Huj and Hareira areas attempting to reach Gaza. The mounted force was to pursue any force that showed signs of retiring and if necessary to support the main assault on Gaza by the 53rd Division, under the command of Dallas. This infantry division was to be reinforced if necessary, by the 161st Brigade of the 54th Division.

At 18:00 the commander in chief of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force Murray established his headquarters in a railway train at El Arish.

Battle


The march for Gaza was begun by Desert Column from Deir el Belah, the 54th Division from In Seirat and the Camel Corps Brigade from Abasan el Kebir. The 53rd Division moved out from Deir el Belah at 01:00 in four columns moving towards El Breij, followed by the artillery. At 02:30 the ANZAC Mounted Division left Deir el Belah with the Imperial Mounted Division following at 03:00, heading for the Um Jerrar crossing of the Wadi Ghazze 4.5 miles (7.2 km) east of Deir el Belah. The mobile sections of field ambulances followed by the immobile sections and ambulance camel transport moved towards their outpost positions north east and east of Gaza.

Divisional engineers began to develop a supply of water in the dry bed of the Wadi Ghuzzeh which was sufficient for all troops engaged and a supply was pumped into long rows of canvas troughs for the horses.

Dobell arrived from Rafa at his battle headquarters just north of In Seirat at 06:45 Chetwode had arrived at 06:37 at In Seirat, although he intended moving on to Sheikh Abbas. Dallas established his battle headquarters near El Breij at 03:45.

Thick fog began to develop and from about 03:50 became very thick, remaining for about four hours when it began to lift. Just before dawn at 05:00 it was so thick that objects could not be seen 20 yards (18.3 m) away, but by this time most of the infantry had crossed the wadi. But it made it impossible for Dallas to reconnoitre the ground and waited at El Breij for the fog to lift, while his two leading brigades moved slowly forward and visibility improved about 07:30. By 07:55 the fog had lifted sufficiently to be able to use the heliograph
Heliograph
A heliograph is a wireless solar telegraph that signals by flashes of sunlight reflected by a mirror. The flashes are produced by momentarily pivoting the mirror, or by interrupting the beam with a shutter...

 to communicate with headquarters. But it was so heavy that all aircraft in No. 1 Squadron that had moved forward to a new landing-ground at Rafa for the opening attack had to turn back, as nothing of the ground could be seen from the air before 9 o’clock.

Infantry move into position


The 53rd (Welsh) Division, commanded by Dallas under the orders of Desert Column, was moving forward despite the fog to make a direct assault on Gaza. At 05:20 the 158th and 160th Infantry Brigades of 53rd Division were crossing the Wadi Ghuzze with 159th Brigade in reserve and by 06:50 the 160th Brigade had moved towards Shaluf and the 158th Brigade towards Mansura but owing to the difficulty of giving artillery support in case the fog should suddenly lift, they were ordered to move more slowly. They had not reached Shaluf and Mansura by 07:50, at which time the leading troops were approaching Sheikh Seehan without touch having been made with any Ottoman force. By 08:27 the 160th Brigade was about 2400 yards (2,194.6 m) south west of Ali Muntar and the 158th Brigade had reached Mansura. Between 08:15 and 08:55 hostile planes flew over attacking with machine guns, but by 08:30 when the higher ground was clear, the leading troops of one brigade were only 2 miles (3.2 km) from their main objective; the commanding height called Ali Muntar. And by 09:30 advanced troops were 3/4 mi north of 53rd Divisional headquarters at Mansura. At 10:15 the commander of 53rd Division ordered the attack on Gaza and fifteen minutes later the attack commenced.It has been claimed that fog delayed the infantry's attack. [Blenkinsop p. 185, Bou p. 160, Hill pp. 103–4, Falls pp. 289–90, 93]

In support the 54th Division (less one brigade in Eastern Force reserve) was ordered to cross the Wadi Ghuzzeh immediately after the mounted troops and take up a position at Sheikh Abbas to cover the rear of the 53rd Division and keep the corridor along which it was to attack open.

Mounted screen moves into position



While the fog made navigation difficult, it also shielded the movement of large bodies of troops so the ANZAC Mounted Division, the Imperial Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade under the command of Chetwode, GOC Desert Column, rapidly intercepted the roads leading to Gaza from the north, east, to isolate the garrison in a 15 miles (24.1 km) long cavalry screen.

The first enemy were encountered by the 7th Light Horse Regiment (Australia) (2nd Light Horse Brigade) near Sheikh Abbas which was attacked mounted and shortly after aircraft fired machine guns on the leading troops. As they crossed the Gaza to Beersheba road they cut the telegraph lines and a patrol captured ten wagons while another group captured 30 German pioneers and their pack-horses.

Soon after 09:00 the 2nd Light Horse Brigade reached Beit Durdis closely followed by the remainder of the ANZAC Mounted Division. At 09:30 four Officers Patrols were sent out towards Huj, Najd 3 miles (4.8 km) north north east of Huj, Abu Hareira, Tel el Sheria and the Ottoman railway. The ANZAC Mounted Division headquarters were established at Beit Durdis and by 10:10 communications were established with Desert Column, Imperial Mounted Division and 2nd Light Horse Brigade by cable. Heliograph stations were also set up and wireless established, but the wireless was blocked by a more powerful Ottoman apparatus at Gaza.

Shortly after the 2nd Light Horse Brigade moved to the north west and by 10:30 had taken up a position overlooking Gaza from the north east (known as Australia Hill) and occupied the village of Jebaliye 2 miles (3.2 km) north east of Gaza. Half an hour later, the 7th Light Horse Regiment had pushed westwards and by 11:30 had reached the coast of the Mediterranean Sea and completing the encirclement of Gaza. In the process the regiment captured the commander of the Ottoman 53rd Division and his staff on their way to Gaza. Two squadrons of the 8th Light Horse Regiment (3rd Light Horse Brigade) moved towards Deir Sneid 7 miles (11.3 km) north east of Gaza to watch for the approach of Ottoman reinforcements. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade concentrated near Beit Durdis while the 22nd Mounted Brigade formed up south of them.

The Imperial Mounted Division reached its destination at Kh er Reseim at 10:00 on the way sending patrols towards Abu Hureira, Tell esh Sheria, Kh. Zuheilika and Huj to make touch with the ANZAC Mounted Division. Two squadrons of the 5th Mounted Brigade pushed forward towards Kh. el Baha south east of Kh er Reseim 1 miles (1.6 km) north of the Gaza to Beersheba road where it remained in support. At 09:45 a squadron of Worcester Yeomanry (5th Mounted Brigade) charged a enemy troops north west of Kh. el Baha and captured 60 prisoners.

Crossing the Wadi Ghuzzeh at Tell el Jemmi south of the crossings at Um Jerrar, the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade (commanded by Brigadier General C.L. Smith) had reached El Mendur on the bank of the Wadi esh Sheria and established an outpost line between the right of the 5th Mounted Brigade and the Wadi Ghuzzeh. While the 54th Division less the 161st Brigade and 271st Brigade RFA in Eastern Force reserve took up its position on Sheikh Abbas Ridge and began digging entrenchments facing east. The 161st Brigade moved to El Burjabye where it would be able to support either the 53rd Division or the 54th Division covering the right rear of the attack at Sheikh Abbas.

Infantry attack on Gaza


Gaza was now completely surrounded and following Desert Column's orders 53rd Division, which had not been in action since Gallipoli, made a direct attack from the south and east towards Ali Muntar; the 160th advancing towards Esh Sheluf was in position by 08:30 and the 158th Brigade advancing towards Mansura while the 159th Brigade had crossed the wadi by 08:25 but had to wait an hour for Dallas to order them to Mansura to support the 158th. As the plan of attack could not be formulated until after a reconnaissance after which it was necessary for Dallas to assemble his brigadiers. During this time Dallas had been out of communication with Chetwode for two hours while his headquarters was moved forward. At 10:50 Dallas contacted Chetwode saying the loss of time was due to the difficulty of bringing the artillery forward but that he would be prepared to attack at 12:00. The artillery was in fact already in position between the Burjabye and Es sire Ridges, although communications had not been established and had begun firing at 10:10.

At around 11:00 the 158th and 160th Brigades were now about 2.5 miles (4 km) from their objectives with patrols going forward towards Ali Muntar. While Dallas phoned Desert Corps to find out the position of the 161st Brigade and 271st RFA. He was told they were at Sheikh Nebhan but they had already moved to El Burjabye where their commander thought the position too exposed and moved the brigade into the valley between the Burjabye and Es Sire Ridges. At 11:45 it was ordered to move up to Mansura but apparently the message was never received. An order was finally received at 13:10 by hand from a staff officer or motorcyclist but it originated from Eastern Force at 12:45.

Dallas received his orders at 11:00 for the attack and half an hour later Dobell and Chetwode ordered him to launch his attack forthwith; Dallas ordered the attack to begin at 11:45 on Ali Muntar by the 158th and 160th Brigades; the 160th approaching from the Es Sire Ridge with the 159th covering the right of the 158th Brigade and attack the hummock known as Clay Hill north of Ali Muntar and on the other side of the Gaza to Beersheba road while one battalion of the 159th was held in reserve until the arrival of the 161st Brigade.

At 11:30 Desert Column staff were of the opinion that the 53rd Division was practically stationary, and the following message was sent to Dallas: "I am directed to observe that (1) you have been out of touch with Desert Column and your own headquarters for over two hours; (2) no gun registration appears to have been carried out; (3) that time is passing, and that you are still far from your objective; (4) that the Army and Column Commanders are exercised at the loss of time, which is vital; (5) you must keep a general staff officer at your headquarters who can communicate with you immediately; (6) you must launch your attack forthwith." A similar message was sent gain at 12:00.There is no mention of the 53rd Division in the War Diary of Desert Column between their setting up headquarters at Mansura at 09:30 and the 159th Brigade coming into action beside the 158th Brigade at 13:10. [AWM4-1-64-3part1-1]

The artillery bombardment began at 12:00 although there was no artillery program and the Ottoman defences had not been identified. The 158th and 160th had been in position awaiting orders for three to four hours, and the 159th rapidly deployed keen to catch up.

They met with stubborn opposition from a determined defence, put up by the Ottoman Army garrison from strong entrenchments with the line of advance over completely open ground. In these conditions, the attacking infantry's artillery support proved inadequate and very high numbers of casualties were suffered. They were reinforced by one brigade of the 54th Division commanded by Eastern Force; the other brigade of this division remaining in position at Sheikh Abbas to secure the southern end of the mounted screen.

At 13:10 the commander of the 53rd Division requested the support of the 161st Brigade, which had been waiting at Sheikh Nebhan since 11:15 to reinforce the 53rd Division.

Defence by the mounted screen


The Imperial Mounted Division had followed the ANZAC Mounted Division and was now in position due east of Gaza watching Huj. Between 11:00 and 11:35 Ottoman Army planes flew over Beit Durdis, a long range gun and a gun opened fire on the mounted column so that all mounted troops were more or less under shell fire from Gaza. The Battery of 5th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade opened on small groups of Ottoman infantry but the long range gun accurately returned fire causing the Battery to change position. Very little fighting had yet taken place so far as they were concerned; and the infantry attack was not making much progress. But news was beginning to come in from the watching patrols of both mounted divisions, describing movements in the direction of Huj and the Beersheba railway and columns of dust in the direction of Tel el Sharia showed where large scale Ottoman Army movements were in progress.

By 12:00 Chetwode (commander of Desert Column) had not yet received any reports of enemy reinforcements moving towards Gaza and he sent a message to Chauvel (commander of Anzac Mounted Division) and Hodgson (commander of Imperial Mounted Division) to prepare to despatch a brigade each to assist the infantry attack on the town.

At 12:30 the 5th Light Horse Regiment (2nd Light Horse Brigade) and half their machine gun squadron attacked a company of Ottoman soldiers on a road moving north east from Gaza; they captured and wounded many while others escaped in the cactus hedges. And for the next 50 minutes the 5th Light Horse Regiment encountered and opposed other parties of Ottoman soldiers moving north east as they worked their way through the cactus hedges.

At 13:00 Dobell placed Chauvel in command of both mounted divisions ordering him to use his whole division to attack Gaza while the Imperial Mounted Division took over the area formerly held by the ANZAC Mounted and Dobell moved the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade forward to take the position formerly held by the Imperial Mounted.

About 13:30 the Imperial Mounted Division was established north of the Gaza to Beersheba road near Kh er Reseim with the 5th Mounted Brigade on their right. The Yeomanry reported Ottoman patrols visible from Huj to Tel el Sheria, 150 Ottoman soldiers holding the ridge along the 400 contour, a column of smoke towards Abu Hareira and dust moving south from Tel el Sheria.

Aerial reconnaissance of the battlefield during the day reported progress of the attack to divisional headquarters and monitored the Ottoman Army reinforcements from Mejdel, Huj, Tel el Sheria, and Beersheba as they approached Gaza; providing strengths and dispositions of the columns.

While the relief of the ANZAC Mounted Division by the Imperial Mounted Division was being carried out, an advance by units of the Ottoman Army from Jemamah became apparent. Lieutenant Colonel Wigan with two squadrons and one troop of Berkshire Yeomanry
Berkshire Yeomanry
94 Signal Squadron forms part of 39 Signal Regiment. They are currently based in three locations in the Home Counties...

 took command of the front and sent back information about the attack by infantry, mounted troops and some machine guns. He brought his own regiment into the line to delay the attack on Hill 405 but as the front became critical Major General Hodgson ordered up the 6th Mounted Brigade with the Berkshire Battery. They were in the process of watering and could not start at once.

At 14:20 Hodgson had issued orders for the move northwards of the Imperial Mounted Division to take over the outposts of the ANZAC Mounted Division. He intended for the 6th Mounted Brigade to take a position east of Beit Durdis and for the 5th Mounted Brigade currently astride the Gaza to Beersheba road to fill the gap between it and the Camel brigade which had orders to move to Kh er Reseim. This relief was not completed until after 18:30 when the 5th Mounted moved 2 miles (3.2 km) north.

All arms attack on Gaza



At 13:33 Chetwode ordered both mounted divisions to supply one brigade each to reconnoitre towards Gaza to assist the infantry attack. At this time planes reported no signs of Ottoman reinforcements moving towards Gaza from any direction. Nor were there any reports half an hour later when, at 14:00 when Lieutenant General Chetwode placed Chauvel in command of both mounted divisions for the remainder of the operations, and the whole of the ANZAC Mounted Division was ordered to attack Gaza from the north. At this time the Imperial Mounted Division and Imperial Camel Corps Brigade supported by Nos 11 and 12 LAM Batteries and No. 7 Light Car Patrol were ordered to take over the outpost line and all observation posts.

It took time to move Chauvel's headquarters to a knoll between Beit Durdis and Gaza so he could see operations, so it was not until a meeting there, at 15:15, that he issued his orders to his brigadiers. The ANZAC Mounted Division was to deploy for the attack from the north, with the 2nd Light Horse Brigade on a front extending from the Mediterranean Sea to the Gaza to Jebalieh road, the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade covering the front from the Gaza to Jebalieh road to the top of the ridge running north east, and two regiments of 22nd Mounted Brigade (Lincolnshire & Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry Regiments) were to take over the front from the right of the New Zealand Mounted Brigade to the track leading to Beit Durdis.The 22nd Mounted Brigade replaced the 1st Light Horse Brigade in the ANZAC Mounted Division for the day. [Powles 1922, p. 90-1]

On the left, the 160th Brigade had advanced rapidly and by 13:30 had captured the Labyrinth; a maze of entrenched gardens due south of Gaza, and the 2/10th Middlesex Regiment
Middlesex Regiment
The Middlesex Regiment was a regiment of the British Army. It was formed in 1881 as part of the Childers Reforms when the 57th and 77th Regiments of Foot were amalgamated with the county's militia and rifle volunteer units.On 31 December 1966 The Middlesex Regiment was amalgamated with three...

 had established itself on a grassy hill, while the 1/4th Royal Sussex Regiment
Royal Sussex Regiment
The Royal Sussex Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army from 1881 to 1966. The regiment was formed as part of the Childers reforms by the amalgamation of the 35th Regiment of Foot and the 107th Regiment of Foot...

 advanced up the centre of the Es Sire ridge under intense enemy fire, suffering heavy casualties including their commanding officer, was forced to fall back in some disorder from the crest. At 16:00 they were reinforced from the reserve and the battalion again advanced.Desert Column War Diary states the Labyrinth was captured at 15:10 by infantry from the 53rd Division with 54th Division's 161st Brigade attached. [Desert Column War Diary AWM4-1-64-3part1-1]

As the 158th and 159th Brigades slowly fought their way forward towards Clay Hill, Dallas ordered the 161st Brigade to capture Green Hill and fill the gap between the 158th and 160th Brigades. By 15:30 the 161st Brigade had reached Mansura and they were in a position to launch their attack at 16:00 with the arrival of the 271st Brigade RFA. The 161st Brigade group dampened the enemy's machine gun fire from Clay Hill and 45 minutes after the 161st Brigade joined the infantry battle; at 15:50, the infantry succeeded in entering the enemy's trenches in two places east of the Ali Muntar mosque, capturing 20 Germans and Austrians and 20 Ottomans. The 53rd Division reported the successful capture of Clay Hill at 16:45, which position was within 600 yards (548.6 m) of Ali Muntar.

Without waiting to complete the relief of all patrols by the Imperial Mounted Division, the attack by the ANZAC Mounted Division, due to begin at 16:00 began at 15:40, supported by the Leicester and Ayrshire Batteries coming into action at 3000 and 4500 yd (2,743.2 and 4,114.8 m) respectively. This attack soon developed and in spite of the prickly pear hedges necessitating dismounted attack, progress was rapid.While the fighting was being done on foot, one quarter of the light horse and riflemen were holding the horses, a brigade became equivalent in rifle strength to an infantry battalion. [Preston 1921 p.168] Shortly after the attack began Chetwode sent messages emphasising the importance of this attack, warning that the trench line north west of Gaza between El Meshaheran and El Mineh on the sea, was strong and offering another brigade from the Imperial Mounted Division, which Chauvel accepted; Hodgson sent the 3rd Light Horse Brigade.
Five minutes after the 159th Brigade (53rd Infantry Division), captured the redoubt near Ali Muntar; at 16:15 the attack on Gaza from the north by the 2nd Light Horse Brigade, supported by the Somerset Battery began to develop. The 2nd Light Horse Brigade, advancing on the northern side towards the town had not been seriously engaged until it reached the cactus hedges where close, intense fighting took place. The light horsemen were supported by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade which also moved forward; the Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment
Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment
The Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment was a New Zealand Mounted Regiment formed for service during World War I.It was formed from Units of the Territorial Force consisting of one squadron each from the 1st Mounted Rifles , the 8th Mounted Rifles and the 10th Mounted Rifles.They served in the...

 in advance with the Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment
Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment
The Wellington Mounted Regiment was a New Zealand Mounted Regiment formed for service during the Great War. It was formed from units of the Territorial Force consisting of the Queen Alexandra's 2nd Mounted Rifles the 6th Mounted Rifles and 9th Mounted Rifles.They served in the Middle Eastern...

 in support and extended on their right. Only three troops of the Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment
Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment
The Auckland Mounted Rifle Regiment was a New Zealand Mounted Regiment formed for service during World War I. It was formed from units of the Territorial Foirce consisting of the 3rd Mounted Rifles the 4th Mounted Rifles and the 11th Mounted Rifles.They served in the Middle Eastern theatre of...

 were available as the others were delayed in the mounted screen by strong Ottoman advances from Huj and Nejed.

At 16:23 the high ridge east of Gaza was captured by the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade and the 22nd Mounted Brigade on their left captured the knoll running west from the ridge. The New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade's headquarters took up a position on the ridge, on a knob later called 'Chaytor's Hill', while the Wellington and Canterbury Regiments pressed on towards Gaza. Four machine guns were attached to each of these regiments; the remaining four were held in reserve.

Between 16:30 and 17:00 Ali Muntar was captured by infantry brigades and dismounted New Zealanders. The Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment pushed along 'The Ridge' to assist in the attack on Ali Muntar practically from the rear; one squadron entering the hostile trenches just after the 53rd Division's attack from the south entered this strong position.
By dusk the light horsemen had reached the northern and western outskirts of the town of Gaza, while the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade's dismounted advanced from Jebaliye against the east and north east sides of Gaza, after the capture of Ali Muntar, through very enclosed country intersected with cactus hedges, buildings and pits occupied by Ottoman riflemen. Despite considerable opposition they continued to slowly advance through the orchards and cactus hedges to the outskirts of the town. The Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment captured two 77-mm Krupp guns with limbers and ammunition. Subsequently, when their progress was stopped by Ottoman snipers in several houses on the eastern outskirts of the town, they pushed the Krupp guns forward to fire point blank, blowing up several houses and causing the surrender of 20 prisoners. One squadron of Canterburys swung south against Ali Muntar and entered the trenches just after the infantry of the 53rd Division. The 22nd Mounted Brigade advancing at the gallop along the track from Beit Durdis to Gaza had also reached the outskirts of the town by dusk.

While the attack in the centre by Chaytor's New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade was progressing the 22nd Mounted Yeomanry Brigade came up on the New Zealand Mounted Rifle Brigade's left. The attacking force had entered the town but the 2nd Light Horse Brigade had been meeting with stiff resistance from Ottoman infantry among the sandhills to the north west of the town. The 7th Light Horse Regiment (2nd Light Horse Brigade) on the extreme right (closest to the Mediterranean Sea) met considerable opposition but was eventually able to advance close up to the town. By nightfall, they had fought their way into the streets of Gaza; the ANZAC Mounted Division suffering very few casualties.

By 18:00, the position of the attacking force was most satisfactory and by 18:30 the whole position had been captured and the defenders were retreating into the town centre. The Wellington Mounted Rifle Regiment and the 2nd Light Horse Brigade were well into the northern outskirts of the town; and the Canterbury Mounted Rifle Regiment, with part of the 53rd Division were in Ali el Muntar; and the trenches south of the town were held by part of the 53rd Division. The 159th Brigade's right was on Clay Hill and its left south of the Gaza to Beersheba road, the 158th Brigade held Ali Muntar, the 161st Brigade held Green Hill and the 160th Brigade was north of the Labyrinth. By nightfall this combined force was consolidating its positions; only on the south western side of Gaza in the sand hills had the attack not been successfully pressed.

Ottoman reinforcements attack mounted screen


The Ottoman 4th Army's 3rd and 16th Infantry Divisions launched counterattacks by 1,000 men advancing on the right.

Ten minutes after the all arms attack on Gaza began; at 15:50 news came that Ottoman reinforcements were advancing towards Gaza. Some 300 had been seen marching from the north towards Gaza and a little later 3 Ottoman columns were reported moving from the same direction another 300 Ottoman soldiers had moved into the sand hills west of Deir Sineid. A squadron of 22nd Mounted Brigade was sent to oppose this advance towards Gaza.

A sudden Ottoman attack from the direction of Jammame forced back the outposts holding Hill 405 1.5 miles (2.4 km) from Beit Durdis. Hodgson ordered the 6th Mounted Brigade with the Berkshire Battery RHA to advance and retake the hill, but the brigade was watering. This delay enabled the Ottoman force to take the hill at 17:15.

At 17:00 at the request of the Imperial Mounted Division Chauvel sent back from the attack on Gaza, Royston's 3rd Light Horse Brigade less, the 10th Light Horse Regiment. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade moved back quickly and seized a high hill north west of Hill 405 enabling the 6th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade to hold on where they were. The 8th and 9th Light Horse Regiments (3rd Light Horse Brigade) with the 1/1st Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry
Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry
The Queen's Own Dorset Yeomanry was founded as the Dorsetshire Regiment of Volunteer Yeomanry Cavalry in 1794. In response to the growing threat of invasion during the Napoleonic wars....

 (6th Mounted Yeomanry Brigade) on their right and 1st Nottinghamshire Battery Royal Horse Artillery on the left of the 6th Mounted Brigade and Berkshire Battery in the centre enfiladed the advancing Ottoman formations. Despite considerable damage being done, more Ottoman guns in addition to the six already in action were brought into action, and three Ottoman batteries enfiladed the Berkshire Battery, which was forced to withdraw at about 18:30, just before dusk.

At 17:15 No. 7 Light Car Patrol was sent up the road towards Deir Sineid and together with Nos. 11 and 12 LAM Batteries
Machine Gun Corps
The Machine Gun Corps was a corps of the British Army, formed in October 1915 in response to the need for more effective use of machine guns on the Western Front in World War I. The Heavy Branch of the MGC was the first to use tanks in combat, and the branch was subsequently turned into the Tank...

 opposed an Ottoman advance from Huj where units of the Ottoman Army were now reported to have 4,000 soldiers; 3,000 infantry and two squadrons of cavalry. A squadron of 22nd Mounted Brigade supported two squadrons of 6th Light Horse Regiment (2nd Light Horse Brigade). The cars reported to Royston and engaged the Ottoman Army advancing from Huj until dark.

It was nearly dark when, at 17:30 a gap occurred in the line between 6th Mounted Brigade and 1st Imperial Camel Corps Brigade. Fortunately Ottoman troops did not attempt to follow it up and Hodgson (commander of the Imperial Mounted Division), requested Chauvel (commander of the mounted attack on Gaza) to send back the 10th Light Horse Regiment still in reserve at Divisional Headquarters; this was done.

Among the orders Hodgson issued at 14:20 regarding the Imperial Mounted Division take over from the ANZAC Mounted Division the movements of the 6th Mounted Brigade and the 5th Mounted Brigade to fill the gap was not completed until after 18:30. When Hodgson discovered that he had lost touch with the 5th Mounted Brigade since the move of his divisional headquarters, he asked Chauvel for the 10th Light Horse Regiment to fill the gap between the left of the 6th Mounted Brigade and the Camel Brigade at Kh er Reseim. In the growing darkness the regiment succeeded in reaching its position.

26 March


During the day Dobell, after talking with Chetwode decided that unless Gaza was captured by nightfall, the fighting must stop and the mounted force withdraw; the need to water the horses was a factor. On the 26 March the sun set at 18:00 (Cairo time) and at that time the capture of Ali Muntar was unknown to Desert Column.The whole position of Ali Muntar was not captured until 18:30. [Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 307]

At 18:10 Chetwode as commander of the Desert Column decided, with the agreement of Dobell (commander of Eastern Force) ordered Chauvel to withdraw the mounted troops and retire across the Wadi Ghuzzeh. Just as Chauvel's order to withdraw was being despatched a report came in from Dallas that Ali Muntar had been captured but this information did not change Chetwode's mind. It was not until some time later that he was told of the retreat of the enemy from the whole ridge. At 18:35 Dobell informed Chetwode and the 54th Division that he contemplated withdrawing the whole force if Gaza did not fall soon.

The decision was puzzling to many of those fighting in and near the town, the infantry held Ali Muntar and 462 German and Ottoman army prisoners, including a general who was a divisional commander and an Austrian battery of two Krupp 77mm field guns were captured, along with a convoy and animals. But despite firing some 304 shells and 1500,000 rounds of SAA (small arms ammunition), some of the well designed trenches and redoubts of the Ottoman Army were still held and the British infantry casualties were very substantial.

Chetwode's orders were received to break off the action after dark and withdraw; the two mounted divisions to Deir el Belah and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade to a position extending from the right of the 54th Division to the Wadi Ghuzzee. He phoned Dallas (commander of the 53rd Division) to inform him of the withdrawal of the mounted troops and the need for him to withdraw his right to gain touch with the 54th Division. Dallas protested, instead asking for troops to close the gap between the two divisions. Dallas was under the impression that he was to make touch at Sheikh Abbas, 4 miles (6.4 km) from his right on Clay Hill while Chetwode meant that touch should be made with the 54th Division's new left flank 1 miles (1.6 km) north of Mansura and not much over 1 miles (1.6 km) from the 161st Brigade at Green Hill. Dallas's request for more troops was denied and when he prevaricated asking for time to consider the order Chetwode gave him the verbal order and Chetwode believed the 53rd was moving its right back to gain touch with the 54th Division near Mansura.

The first units to withdraw were all slow moving wheels and camels ordered at 17:00 by Desert Column, to move back to Hill 310 via Sheikh Abbas while as late at 21:12, the 53rd Division still held Ali Muntar. At that time they advised Desert Column they would have to evacuate towards Sheikh Abbas due to withdrawal occurring on their right. There have been claims that the infantry were the first to retire and that due to a communications debacle the 53rd Division made a complete and premature retirement.

The mounted troops withdrawal was slow and difficult, not because of pressure from the enemy (there was none until dawn) but units were intermixed and dismounted troops far from their led horses. For instance the 7th Light Horse Regiment (2nd Light Horse Brigade) was nearly 4 miles (6.4 km) from their horses and all the wounded had not yet been collected. The Imperial Mounted Division remained in position to cover the retirement beginning with the artillery. Until the ANZAC Mounted Division was clear of the battlefield; at about midnight, the advancing Ottoman reinforcements were held off by the Imperial Mounted Division, with the assistance of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade and armoured motor car patrols.

No. 7 Light Car Patrol reported to headquarters ANZAC Mounted Division on return at 18:40 and was ordered to return to base while Nos. 11 and 12 LAM Batteries camped in the vicinity of Kh er Reseim. At 19:05 ANZAC Mounted Division's artillery began its retirement from divisional headquarters under escort and the 43 wounded from ANZAC Mounted Division and 37 wounded from Imperial Mounted Division were collected and brought to the ambulances and prisoners sent back under escort. At 19:30 the 22nd Mounted Brigade was moving toward Divisional Headquarters while the 6th Mounted Division drew back to a better position while Ottoman soldiers dug in on Hill 405.
At 22:30 Dallas, (commander of 53rd Division) issued orders for the whole of his force to withdraw to a line which stretched from the caves at Tell el Ujul, near the Wadi Ghuzzeh on the left through a point 1 miles (1.6 km) north of Esh Sheluf, and on to Mansura and Sheikh Abbas involving a retirement of 1 miles (1.6 km) on the Es Sire Ridge and 3 miles (4.8 km) between Clay Hill and Mansura and informed Desert Column of this move.

By 23:00 Dobell (commander of Eastern Force) had become aware of the extent of the 53rd Division's successes. He also received intercepted wireless messages, which had been unduly delayed, between Kress von Kressenstein at Tell esh Sheria and Major Tiller the German officer commanding the Gaza garrison indicating the desperate situation of the garrison. Dobell immediately ordered Chetwode and Dallas to dig in on their present ling and connecting his right with 54th Division.

It was nearly midnight when Dallas discovered that the 54th Division was drawing in to north of Mansura - had he known of this move at the time he would not have abandoned all the captured positions.

27 March


At 02:00 when the guns of ANZAC Mounted Division had reached Dier el Belah and the Division was just passed Beit Dundis, Hodgson gave orders for the concentration of the Imperial Mounted Division's 3rd Light Horse, 5th and 6th Mounted Brigades while the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade took up a line from the Wadi Guzzee to the left of the 54th Division's headquarters.

At 04:30 the LAM Batteries broke camp near Kh er Reseim and as they moved to the south they encountered opposition from Ottoman Army units. After 2 hours of stiff fighting they managed to retire while at 04:50 No. 7 Light Car Patrol was moving along the Gaza to Beersheba road. It was not until 05:30 that an Ottoman attack in strength fell on the rear of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade just as the brigade was crossing the Gaza to Beersheba road near Kh Sihan. No. 7 Light car Patrol gave very effective support to the brigade, and together became heavily engaged with the Ottoman Army advancing from Huj. The Ottoman advance was beaten off and the armoured cars covered the 3rd Light Horse Brigade's retirement to the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade at 07:00 on the morning of 27 March 1917.See Lieutenant McKenzie's (commander of No. 7 Light Car Patrol) description of his retirement in Gullett's volume of the Official History, pp. 288–9 and Falls 1930 Vol. 1 p. 308.

When Chetwode learned the 53rd Division had abanoned its whole position, at 05:00 on 27 March, he ordered the division back to Ali Muntar. Dallas ordered the 160th and 161st Brigades to push forward strong patrols to the positions of the previous evening which they were able to reoccupy. Both Green Hill and Ali Muntar were found to be unoccupied and one company of the 1/7th Essex Regiment
Essex Regiment
The Essex Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army that saw active service from 1881 to 1958. Members of the regiment were recruited from across Essex county. Its lineage is continued by the Royal Anglian Regiment.-Origins:...

, 161st Brigade reoccupied Ali Muntar and two companies of the same battalion reoccupied Green Hill. After the 2/10th Middlesex, 160th Brigade had pushed forward patrols beyond Sheluf the 2/4th Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment were ordered to gain touch with the 161st Brigade. This battalion saw patrols of the 161st falling back, while the Herefordshire was also advancing.

After dawn on 27 March the first Ottoman counterattacks recaptured Ali Muntar and a portion of Green Hill, but the 1/7th Essex Regiment retook the positions, consolidated and reestablished itself. Meanwhile the Ottoman force which had attacked the 3rd Light Horse Brigade appeared on Sheikh Abbas, shelling the rear of Dallas, position but no serious attack was made on the 54th Division on Burjabye Ridge.

At 08:00 Dallas and the 53rd Division came under orders of Eastern Force and Dobell received an appreciation from Dallas of the position at 09:15. This stated that if the present positions of the 53rd and 54th Divisions were to be maintained the enemy occupation of Sheikh Abbas must be ended and suggested this might best be achieved by Desert Column as the 52nd (Lowland) Division was too far away.

By 08:10 the Imperial Mounted Division was at Deir el Belah and the ANZAC Mounted Division was marching via Abu Thirig past Hill 310 where Chauvel met Chetwode, who ordered the horses of both divisions to water and return to a position near El Dameita to support the attempt by the infantry to retake Ali Muntar. At 08:30 Chetwode took over command of the two mounted divisions from Chauvel.

At 09:30 a strong Ottoman attack was launched and they quickly recaptured Ali Muntar. The Essex Infantry Regiment suffered severe losses and fell back to Green Hill where they were almost surrounded but managed to withdraw to a line south of Ali Muntar half way between that hill and Sheluf.

Just after 11:00 Dallas who had taken over command of the 54th Division asked G. P. Dawnay, Brigadier General General Staff (BGGS), Eastern Force if the line currently held could be maintained for three or four days. Dawnay thought it too weak unless Sheikh Abbas was occupied. The enemy had installed artillery batteries at Sheikh Abbas and these fired on all the tracks across the Wadi Ghuzzeh, making the job of the Egyptian Camel Transport Corps
Egyptian Camel Transport Corps
The Egyptian Camel Transport Corps were a group of Egyptian camel drivers who supported the British Army in Egypt during the First World War's Sinai and Palestine Campaign...

 of supplying food, water and ammunition to the forward troops, very dangerous.

The ANZAC Mounted Division remained near El Dameita until 16:00 and the 54th Division remained near Sheikh Abbas engaging the advancing Ottoman units from Beersheba.

At 16:30 Dobell, after advising Murray, issued orders for the withdrawal to the left bank of the Wadi Ghuzzeh of the 53rd and 54th Divisions under the command of Dallas and the retirement began at 19:00 during which the enemy did not interfere with the withdrawal.

Between 27 and 28 March the whole British force was withdrawn to Deir el Belah and Khan Yunus; the Anzac Mounted Division reaching Belah at 08:30 on 27 March.

British casualties amounted to 4,000; 523 killed, 2932 wounded and over 512 missing including five officers and 241 other ranks of wounded and unwounded, known to be prisoners. These were mainly from the 53rd Division and the 161st Brigade. While the enemy suffered at total of 2,447 casualties; 16 Germans and Austrians killed or wounded, and 41 missing, while the Ottomans suffered 1,370 killed or wounded and 1,020 missing. The ANZAC Mounted Division lost six killed, 43 or 46 wounded and two missing while the Imperial Mounted Division suffered 37 casualties.

Aftermath



During an aerial reconnaissance on the morning of 28 March it was reported that no Ottoman units were within range of the British guns.
Both Dobell and his superior, Murray, portrayed the battle as a success; on 28 March General Murray sent the following message to the War Office:

"We have advanced our troops a distance of fifteen miles from Rafa to the Wadi Ghuzzee, five miles west of Gaza, to cover the construction of the railway. On the 26th and 27th we were heavily engaged east of Gaza with a force of about 20,000 of the enemy. We inflicted very heavy losses upon him. It is estimated that his losses were between 6,000 and 7,000. We have in addition 900 prisoners, including the GOC and the whole of the staff of 53 Ottoman Division. This figure includes four Austrian officers and 32 Austrian and five German other ranks. We captured two Austrian guns. All troops behaved splendidly." And General Dobell: "This action has had the result of bringing the enemy to battle, and he will now undoubtedly stand with all his available force in order to fight us when we are prepared to attack. It has also given our troops an opportunity of displaying the splendid fighting qualities they possess. So far as all ranks of the troops engaged were concerned, it was a brilliant victory, and had the early part of the day been normal victory would have been secured. Two more hours of daylight would have sufficed to finish the work the troops so magnificently executed after a period of severe hardship and long marches, and in the face of most stubborn resistance."

The British press reported the battle as a success but afterwards, an Ottoman plane dropped a message that said, "You beat us at communiqués, but we beat you at Gaza."

Murray's offensive power had not been diminished during this one indecisive action, which judged by Western Front standards was small and very far from costly. Preparations for a renewal of the offensive were quickly taken and the Second Battle of Gaza
Second Battle of Gaza
The Second Battle of Gaza, fought in southern Palestine during the First World War, was another attempt mounted by British Empire forces to break Ottoman defences along the Gaza-Beersheba line...

began on 19 April 1917.