Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915
Suez Canal Attack
Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915
The Times, 8 February 1915
The account is transcribed below.
THE FIGHT FOR THE CANAL.
ROUT OF THE TURKISH
INVADERS SWEPT- BACK TO THE DESERT.
(FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT.)
CAIRO, FEB. 7.
It is now possible to form an idea of the enemy's movements and plans before the recent engagements on the Suez Canal. Contrary to the view usually held, Djemal Pasha committed to the majority of his advanced guard the more difficult line of advance from Halir-el-Auja via Wadi-el-Arish and Djebel Libni, to Ismailia and Toussoum. A comparatively small force marched from El Arish towards El Kantara via Katieh, while bodies of partisans who followed the Akaba - Nakhl road made unimportant demonstrations in the Suez region and near Tor. He doubtless expected these demonstrations to draw off our troops from more important points, and perhaps to cause some ferment in Egypt, but his expectations were disappointed.
Whatever may be said of the enemy's tactics, the arrangements for traversing the desert were good. The men had enough to eat and drink and appear to have marched well, covering the whole distance from Beersheba to the Canal in 10 marching days and arriving, in general, in good condition. Everything was done to encourage their belief that, the crossing of the Canal could be effected without difficulty.
VICTORY OR PARADISE.
The regimental chaplains were instructed to warn the soldiery that, while victory or Paradise awaited them in Egypt, death or Hell would claim those who retreated. The officers, some of whom appear to have been highly confident of success, added their injunctions to the exhortations of the Imams; while lying articles in the Tanin accusing British troops of massacres of "our Arab brethren"' were distributed among them, according to the time-honoured policy of the Committee of Union and Progress.
The centre column of the Turkish advanced guard was composed of troops belonging to the Eighth Army Corps, under the command of Djemal Pasha, a namesake of the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Army; and to these some Turkish troops of the Fourth Army Corps were attached. Of the Beduin auxiliaries, of whom so much has been heard since the outbreak of the war in Turkey, little indeed has been seen in recent encounters, and it would appear that the huge levies of irregulars, of whom rumour told many tales of late, have either never existed or have mysteriously evaporated before the hostile advanced guard drew near the Canal.
THE FIRST ENGAGEMENT.
The first fight with the advanced parties of Djemal's northern column took place on January 27. It was an unimportant affair, in which the losses on our side were small, but it showed conclusively that the enemy meant to make for a point towards Katieh. In the next few days the advanced parties were reinforced, while our airmen succeeded in dropping bombs, to the disgust of the Beduin, on hostile bodies advancing westwards. One of our aeroplanes had a narrow escape of being obliged to descend in the neighbourhood of the enemy, darting away again when almost in their clutches amid a heavy fire.
In this connexion it may be noted that the death of two airmen killed by accident by our outposts when coming in after an accident to their machine was in no wise due to error on the part of our troops. The airmen, neither of whom was a trained soldier, blew whistles when near our advanced posts, which just sighted them through the night. Our men naturally taking this as a signal to charge, opened fire with fatal results.
BATTLE IN A SANDSTORM
On February 2 the enemy's advanced guard came to within striking distance our centre. During the day a part of them came into action near Ismailia in a sandstorm which blew clouds of dust and sand over the bare desert balking the gunners, who expended quantities of ammunition and caused only six casualties among our troops. The shooting of the enemy's infantry was bad. They were heavily shelled by land and naval guns, but the dust cloud; prevented our men from ascertaining what losses they inflicted.
Meanwhile a column, composed apparently of a pontoon company of Turks, the 75th Regiment, belonging to the 25th Division with the 74th Regiment of the same division and two Anatolian battalions in support prepared an attack on our position near Toussoum, near the point where the Canal emerge from the Timsah Lake. The advanced parties had reached the little oasis of Bir Murra near the Canal. Only here was there any cover worth mentioning. Southward along our front towards Serapeum stretches an open gravel plain, bare and almost without even a camel scrub. The decision to make the first rush at night was imposed upon the Ottoman commander.
After midnight the Turks moved down to attack: The pontoon section and its immediate supports were at first unmolested.
"We heard nothing from your side," said one prisoner. "We know your trenches were somewhere near but no sound came to us. We only heard three dogs barking along way off. We reached the water and began to dig and build a pontoon bridge. We thought we must have found a gap in your line. Then a Maxim opened on us."
The Times, 8 February 1915, p. 8, pt 2.
With the steep canal bank behind them the luckless Turks who had reached the water were swept away by our fire. Many were killed and drowned. A detachment of two companies of the 75th Regiment, which supported them, suffered heavy losses. Attempts to cover the advance farther south with Maxim fire failed. The 74th Regiment supporting the 75th got a boat on the Canal, which was sunk as it reached the western bank, and a plucky officer and one soldier who survived were taken prisoners. Our Indian troops shot straight, and fought coolly and well.
The attack failed, but the action was not over. At dawn the enemy's artillery attacked to warships on Lake Timsah. Shots from a 6in. gun hit H.M.S. Hardinge twice, and it appears that one shell was sent sufficiently near the Ismailia landing-stage, where a number of habitants of the town were watching the engagement, to cause a sudden and slightly comic stampede. Later in the day a French warship, it is claimed, silenced it.
BRITISH ARTILLERY ACTION.
Meanwhile the British and Egyptian artillery had come into action at various points along our front. All did well. The Turkish column which renewed the attack near Toussoum and anther which moved against Serapeum, covered by heavy artillery fire, were checked and turned and finally driven eastward by our advance from Serapeum and elsewhere. Many sere killed and wounded, and a number who had entrenched themselves between Toussoum and Serapeum were attacked and overpowered, and surrendered before our troops closed in.
TURKS IN FULL RETREAT.
Meanwhile the attack, or feint, near Ismailia had no better success, and by 3 in the afternoon he Turks were in full retreat. They failed, however, to draw off all their surviving men, for the next day our troops, moving out eastward, captured come 200 prisoners, three Maxims, and a camel convoy almost without resistance.
During the action of February 3 between Ismailia and Serapeum an engagement took place at El Kantara. Here too the first attack was made before dawn. Owing to our inundations the enemy was forced to advance on a narrow front over very soft ground, where some, according to witnesses of the fight, stuck, up to their waists in mud. The attack failed before dawn came. At daybreak another attack was pushed from the south-east.
NO CHANCE OF SUCCESS.
From all accounts the, enemy never had a chance of succeeding. The Syrian troops came bravely on, but our fire was too much for them. A shell from one of our warships wiped out a party of officers. A low ridge where the enemy was attempting to entrench was swept by our artillery.
The advance of the Indian troops completed the work of the guns. By 3 all was over, and on the 4th our troops, pushing out from the Canal, found that the hostile column had retreated, and had even abandoned a position several miles east, which had been strongly entrenched as a point d'appui.
Since then prisoners, rifles, and other trophies have been streaming in. The prisoners, some of whom when first captured expected to be delivered to torment, were delighted to find themselves well treated and fed. The only complaint that any of them made was that the Indian troops upbraided them severely with the disgraceful conduct of the Turkish Government, whereupon the Syrian prisoners, in many cases, were equally ready to heap curses on the Government.
The impression that the enemy's advanced guard is in full retreat from the vicinity of the Canal is confirmed by the latest available information.
The French military mission, composed of Colonel Maucorps, formerly Military Attache at Constantinople, Captain Reymond, and Lieutenant Comte de St. Quentin, formerly Secretary of the Embassy at Constantinople, arrived here yesterday.
(FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT.)
CAIRO, FEB. 6.
An official communiqué issued here says:Two Shawishes of the 75th Turkish Regiment captured at Toussoum state:Our division (the 25th) left Beersheba for Halir-el-Auja, and then, crossing Wadi el Arish, continued its march in the desert until it reached Kataib-el-Kheil, four hours' distance from the Canal. We brought with us many boats, which were carried on cars and dragged by oxen and buffaloes.
"At Kataib-el-Kheil we were divided up into parties, each of which was ordered to attack a point on the Canal. Our party, composed of half a tabur (500 to 600 men), was ordered to attack Toussoum. We came to the Canal bank, but met with a very hot and well-aimed fire, which caused a great many casualties amongst us, and then we were surrounded by troops from behind, and so were hemmed in and made prisoners.
"Arif Bey, our commandant, was wounded and carried off the field. Our next officer was wounded and made prisoner."
A first lieutenant of the 74th Regiment states:"My corps began its march for the final objective at 6 p.m. on February 2, and moved through the night, and was in action soon after dawn. I was in the second line until the first line was checked, and then moved up with my detachment in support. The rifle fire was very fierce as we approached the Canal, but we managed to get a boat launched with our half company. As we approached the west bank we suffered severe casualties and the boat was riddled and sank. At this point I was wounded. I landed with two boatmen and a third man all that was left of my half company. Finally I and one boatman alone survived. Where upon I surrendered to some Indian troops."
A German major, who was shot during the fight near Serapeum, was found to be carrying a white flag in a specially designed khaki wallet. There has been no fighting to-day, February 5. [See End Note.]
The Press Bureau announces that the following statement was officially issued a Cairo on February 7:
No further fighting has taken place on the Canal. Besides Arabs a number of Anatolian Turkish soldiers are deserting and giving themselves up to the British authorities They are very despondent over the failure of their attack on February 2. Some deserters state that they attempted to rejoin their regiments, but saw the German and Turkish officers shooting runaways, so though it safer to go back to the British lines.During the recent fighting none of the enemy reached the west bank of the Canal except prisoners and the four soldiers whose escape has already been notified. No buildings in Ismailia were hit, nor did any shell come into the town; most of the enemy shells dropped into Lake Timsah.
End Note: The German major killed was Hauptmann Wilhelm von dem Hagen.