Topic: BatzP - El Auja
Palestine, 23 May 1917
SMASHING A TURKISH RAILWAY.
GREAT RAID IN PALESTINE.
WORK OF MOUNTED TROOPS.
(From W. T. MASSEY.)
BEFORE GAZA, MAY 24.
Once again the Turks have been made to feel the full force of a British cavalry stroke.
The Commander-in-Chief decided upon the destruction of the greater part of the railway line south-west of Beersheba and mounted troops of a desert column under Major-General Chauvel, by another of those dashing raids which have characterized all the operations of the column since the occupation of El Arish at Christmas, attacked more than 20 miles of line simultaneously and destroyed it absolutely beyond repair, except by complete' reconstruction. The operation was even more important than the wrecking of the line suggests, for the Turks are short of railway material and they had, begun to take up and carry away the part of the line nearest to Kossaima to build a line towards Gaza. They looked. to this section of the line to furnish some badly-needed material, but they will not find a sound rail or sleeper there.
The night before last two columns moved out on their destroying mission. A camel corps '' went off on a 32-mile march to El Audja, a police post on the Turco-Egyptian frontier. They had previously destroyed the bridge there, and they spent yesterday in smashing the whole railway westwards to Wadi El Abiad, including many culverts over Wadis. Being well to the west of Beersheba, they had more time than the cavalry, whose operations were timed to cease at 10 o'clock, and the explosions of the camel men were heard like a heavy artillery battle until late iii the afternoon.
The task of smashing the railway between Asluj, 15 miles due south of Beersheba, and Hadaj was entrusted to Field Engineers and Anzac and Imperial mounted troops, who have been specially trained in the methods of rapidly destroying railway line. They were covered by the remainder of the troops. These splendid soldiers moved south and east from dusk on Tuesday until dawn yesterday for more than 30 miles. They were delayed somewhat by the extreme darkness of the night, and a dust storm made it difficult to see the tracks. Some of the country is very difficult. One column had to march in the blackness of the night over a long stretch of limestone ridges with char jagged edges. One demolition party arrived at Asluj at 6 o'clock, and the other at Hadaj at 7, working towards each other.
By 10 o'clock they had destroyed 10 miles of line, including three bridges of 24 arches, with substantial atone and concrete pillars. So complete was the destruction of this section of the strategic military line that not one length of rail remained whole. Every bolt had its head knocked off.
It was not part of the scheme that the cavalry and camelry should join hands and the short section between their spheres of operations remains untouched, but the undestroyed portion is isolated and useless.
While the engineers were blowing up the railway the cavalry made a strong demonstration against Beersheba. They got within five miles of the town, heavily shelled and destroyed the railway bridge to the north, and drove off two Turkish cavalry brigades which appeared to the south of Beersheba during the afternoon. Our troops returned to their bivouacs in the afternoon. The Turks made a poor reply to this heavy blow.
This morning an aeroplane with three men and explosives came down at Salmena, a few miles from Bir-el-Abd, to attempt to cut out railway and pipe line. The men alighted and were about to place dynamite in position when our patrol opened a heavy fire. The enemy airmen ran, leaving the machine and all them explosives and implements. Blood trails showed that one man was hit, but not the slightest damage was done to us.
A Constantinople communiqué, dated May 30 stated that two Turkish airmen landed near Salmena, and "destroyed the telegraph lines and the British Army's water-supply pipes."
Extracted from and article written by WT Massey and published in the London Times, 1 June 1917, p. 6.
Yigal Sheffy, The origins of the British breakthrough into South Palestine : the ANZAC raid on the Ottoman railway, 1917, The journal of strategic studies, Vol. 22, No. 1, March 1999.
Citation: El Auja, Palestine, May 23, 1917