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Sunday, 9 August 2009
Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The British Occupation of Romani
Topic: BatzS - Romani

Battle of Romani

Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Falls Account, The British Occupation of Romani

 

The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August 1916

[Click on map for larger version]

[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 10 facing p. 178.]

 

As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917,  was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.

MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 173 - 182:

 

Part 1. The British Occupation of Romani.

Between the 11th May and the 4th June the 52nd (Lowland) Division moved to Romani, where a strong position was gradually developed, its left flank on the sea, its right rounded off to cover the new railhead at Romani Station. It was supplied by both the main line from Qantara and the narrow-gauge line from Port Said to Mahamdiyah. A 6-inch pipe-line was laid beside the main railway, but owing to the heavy demands on piping by the Canal Defences, lagged considerably behind railhead. By the 4th June, 17 miles of this pipe had been laid from Qantara, "pipehead" being then west of Pelusium Station. The troops at Romani had therefore still to be supplied with water either by means of trucks from Qantara or by convoys of camels from pipehead. Local water was impregnated with salts to such an extent that it could not be used in the boilers of the engines, and on the 30th June Sir A. Murray informed the War Office that every drop of water drunk at Romani came from the Nile, that the 6-inch pipe was now inadequate, and that he required a 12-inch pipe. This the War Office promised, and three months later the first consignment arrived.

The mounted troops originally established at Romani, Qatiya, and Oghritina had subsisted on the local well water, but the coming of the extreme summer heat, during which a temperature of 123° Fahrenheit was registered inside a tent, altered the situation. British troops could not now march and fight on the saline water; the horses often refused it, and, if they drank it, quickly lost condition.1

1. A condensing plant was installed at Mahamdiyah to supplement the supply, but it proved expensive in coal and the intake sucked in so much sand that the pipes were choked. When it was finally put into working order the further advance across the desert had begun and its need was almost over.


It must be added that both troops and horses gradually accustomed themselves to the local water, and were able to subsist upon it for short periods. Better water than that in existing wells, which were fouled by decaying vegetable matter, was frequently obtained by sinking new ones in their vicinity. The digging of a well in the sand was, however, a long and arduous task. Great saving of time and trouble was effected by the use of the "spear-point" pump, first employed by the Australian Field Squadron. A section of 2j-inch piping was brought to a point and perforated above that point, the perforation being covered with wire gauze. This was driven into the sand, and additional lengths screwed to it till the required depth was attained, when a service lift-and-force pump was attached. Water was thus obtained without difficulty in any water-bearing area and far more quickly than from most of the wills in the Oases.

[175] The defensive position at Romani ran southward from Mahamdiyah along a line of high sand-hills, which marked the eastern edge of an area of very soft and shifting sand. East of this natural line of defence the ground sloped down to much lower dunes and harder sand. Movement here was easier, nor were the dried gypsum pans by which the area was broken, in general serious obstacles. Within sight of the Romani heights were the large groves forming the Qatiya Oasis.

The principal tactical point in the position was a dune known as Katib Gannit, at its southern end, standing 100 feet above its neighbouring hillocks. Between the shore at the western end of the Bardawil Lagoon and Katib Gannit, on the eastern slopes of the Romani heights, were constructed in first line twelve works, on an average 750 yards apart, with another series curving westward, then northward, in the form of a hook, to protect the right or southern flank. The total number of works was eighteen;2 [2 Maps 9 and 10 show only 16 works; apparently the two remaining were in rear of these.] when fully garrisoned they held from 40 to 170 rifles apiece, with an average of 100 rifles. In addition to Lewis guns an average of two Vickers guns was also allotted to each. The works were prominent, since concealment could not be obtained without sacrificing field of fire. They were well wired, though at the opening of the Battle of Romani the spaces between them were not covered by wire, except on the right of the position.

After the middle of May the heat in Sinai is very great, becoming fiercest between mid-June and the end of July. By night it is reasonably cool, and often cold, but day after day, when once the sun is well up, the desert throws back its heat like metal. Plate-laying on the railway could not in these conditions be carried out after 10 a.m. Worse than [177] the sun is the hot southerly wind, or Khamsin,1 [1. Khamsin, fifty. The Bedouin believe this wind blows once every fifty days. It lasts sometimes for only a few hours, sometimes for several days.] which turns the atmosphere to a haze of floating particles of sand. In camp at Romani the troops suffered severely, but the Scotsmen more than the Australians, many of whom, coming front the ranges of the interior, were accustomed to great summer heat and scanty water supply. No major operations took place within this period, for the Turks retained in Sinai only small scattered garrisons, out of reach of the British force. In the air, however, there was considerable activity. Turkish aeroplanes appeared over the Suez Canal twice during the month of May, dropping bombs on Port Said, but causing no material damage and only 23 casualties to troops and civilians. On the 18th a successful bombardment of the town and aerodrome of El Arish was carried out from the sea and air in reprisal for the first of the Turkish raids. On the 22nd the R.F.C. bombed all the enemy camps on a front of 45 miles parallel to the Canal.

The activity of the Turkish aeroplanes was, however, increasing, and Colonel W. G. H. Salmond, commanding the Sketch B. 5th Wing, planned a big raid on the 18th June upon their aerodrome at El Arish. To gain the advantage of surprise, the eleven British machines kept out to sea until past El Arish, then turned inland and approached their objective from the south-east. Two Turkish machines were destroyed on the ground, two of the ten hangars set on fire, and four others hit by bombs. Successful attacks with bombs and machine guns were also made on several parties of Turkish troops. The British aeroplanes were subjected to heavy fire and three brought down. Of these, one fell into the sea, the pilot being rescued by a motor-boat; a second fell north of the aerodrome and was burned by its pilot, Captain R. J. Tipton, R.F.A., before the Turks could reach him. The third aeroplane was observed on the ground by one of the escorting machines, piloted by Captain S. Grant-Dalton, Green Howards, who landed beside it, took off its pilot, Captain H. A. Van Ryneveld, 2 [2. Now Colonel Sir H. A. Van Ryneveld, Director of the South African Air services, who flew from London to Cape Town via Cairo in 1920.] and carried him 90 miles back to Qantara. [178]

On the ground constant patrolling and reconnaissances took place. In one such expedition, to Bir Bayud, 19 miles south-east of Romani, made on the 16th May, a day of particularly intense heat, the 6th A.L.H., narrowly escaped disaster from lack of water, many men lying for hours unconscious in the groves of Qatiya. On the 31st a successful raid on the enemy's post at Bir Salmana, 22 miles E.N.E. of Romani, was carried out by the New Zealand Brigade, supported by the 1st A.L.H. Two Turks were captured and 15 killed, while British aeroplanes caused further loss to the retreating enemy, especially in camels.

During the month of June an operation was carried out from No. 2 Section of the Canal Defences to deny to the enemy the large supplies of water in the Wadi um Mukhsheib and at Moiya Harab, 25 miles east of the Little Bitter Lake, which had been used by the Turks in their attack on the Canal the previous year. A composite force of the 9th and 10th A.L.H. (3rd L. H. Brigade), with detachments of engineers and of the Bikanir Camel Corps, under the command of Lieut.-Colonel T. J. Todd, moved out on the 9th June to the Wadi um Mukhsheib, and a detachment of Middlesex Yeomanry advanced to Moiya Harab. The ancient stone cisterns, sunk beside the wadi's bed to catch its overflow, were pumped dry. Patches of clay which were holding water in large pools were ditched by explosives, to drain off the water into the sand. Three days' work in intense heat disposed of five million gallons of water, the cisterns being then sealed to prevent them from refilling after the next season's rains. As a result, the use by the enemy of the Central Sinai route, by which he had advanced in 1915, was made practically impossible and the area of a serious Turkish offensive narrowed down to the coast route, where preparations had been made to meet it.

At the beginning of June the revolt of the Arabs in the Hejaz against the Turks broke out. This, together with the events which led up to it, will be described in the chapters that follow. One result may be mentioned here : Sir A. Murray was now directed by the C.I.G.S. to consider seriously that advance to El Arish which had previously been merely a vague possibility. Sir W. Robertson did not, however, contemplate that such an advance would be possible before October.

 

Previous: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Next: The Turkish Advance

 

Further Reading:

Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916

Bir el Abd, Sinai, 9 August 1916

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The British Occupation of Romani

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Monday, 7 September 2009 6:25 PM EADT

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