Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915
Suez Canal Attack
Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915
Official British History Account, Pt 4
The following is an extract from:
MacMunn, G., and Falls, C., Military Operations Egypt & Palestine - From the Outbreak of War with Germany to June 1917, London, 1928, pp. 28 - 31.
ADVANCE OF THE TURKS
Egypt was watchful and fairly well informed. The British aeroplanes available were incapable of long flights. [The detachment under Major S. D. Massy, 29th Punjabis, consisted of three Maurice Farmans sent from Avonmouth in November, two Henri Farmans taken over in Egypt, and one B3.E2a which arrived from India in December. The aerodrome was at Ismailia, with a landing ground at Qantara. For long reconnaissances into Sinai it was found necessary to send out troops to prepare temporary landing grounds some miles east of the Suez Canal. The longest flight ever carried out was 176 miles, for which a specially large petrol tank had to be fitted to the machine. This, however, was after the Turkish attack on the Suez Canal.] The French seaplanes, put at Sir J. Maxwell's disposal in November, of which there were seven in the Aenne Rickmers - a captured cargo steamer equipped as a seaplane carrier at Port Said, were better, though far from powerful enough for the work they were called upon to perform. Hard driven Jan, by an energetic commander, Lieutenant de Vaisseau de l'Escaille, they carried out reconnaissance flights which were remarkable, particularly in view of the fact that the forced descent of a seaplane on land meant almost certain death for pilot and observer. [Thus in December Lieutenant de Vaisseau Destrem, with a British officer as observer, on two occasions flew up the Wadi Arabi from Aqaba and strove to surmount the steep range east of the valley, in order to reconnoitre Ma'an, on the Hejaz Railway. The task was beyond the power of the 80 h.p. engine, but attempts were continued by him and others until Sir J. Maxwell ordered them to stop, fearing that they would cost him one of his invaluable pilots. In the same month Lieutenant de Vaisseau Delage took off from the Doris off El Arish, flew over Gaza, then turned south-east to Beersheba. On his return his engine stopped while he was still ten miles from the sea. The wind just carried the seaplane over the water, but it was in a sinking condition when the Doris steamed up from Al Erish (a distance of 35 miles) to its rescue.] From information obtained by them and from the reports of agents it became clear that the attack would not be much longer delayed, and almost certain that it would come through Central Sinai. It was known to the headquarters of the Force in Egypt that a large force, including the 10th, 23rd, and 27th Divisions, was assembled close to the frontier about Beersheba.
On the 11th January it was thought desirable to issue to the Egyptian Press a statement that an attack was imminent, in order that excitement might be, so far as possible, discounted and allayed. Nekhl had by this date been held by a small body of the enemy for more than a week. On the 25th a force, estimated at one regiment, was reported to be marching on Qantara.
The trenches prepared on the west bank had not been occupied till the 22nd, and then only by small detachments. When, on the 26th, Moiya Harab, 25 miles east of the Little Bitter Lake, was reported to be occupied by some 6,000 men, and at the same time, 40 miles to the north-west, the British covering troops exchanged fire in front of Qantara with an enemy who fell back in the afternoon, it was decided to take up the positions for the defence.
Two battalions of the 32nd Indian Brigade were sent to hold the trenches along the west bank from Bench Mark Post, north of Lake Timsah, to Ballah, of which sector Br.-General H. D. Watson was put in command. All along the front the trenches on the west bank were reinforced from local reserves. The New Zealand Infantry Brigade was brought up the same day from Cairo, the Otago and Wellington Battalions being sent to El Kubri in the 1st Sector, while headquarters with the Auckland and Canterbury Regiments detrained at Ismailia, where they were held in reserve. H.M.S. Swiftsure, Clio, Minerva, the armed merchant cruiser Himalaya, and H.M.S. Ocean entered the Canal, taking stations near Qantara, Ballah, Shallufa, Gurkha Post, and Esh Shatt respectively. The French coastguard ship Requin was already in Lake Timsah, where the Canal Company had dredged a berth for her east of the main channel.
Next day (the 27th) the enemy was found to have established himself astride the El Arish-Qantara road, 5 miles east of Qantara, in the 3rd or northern Sector ; while in the early hours of the morning he also approached the Canal in the 1st or southern Sector, making slight attacks on the Baluchistan and Kubri posts. Major-General Wilson appreciated these feints at their proper value and, confident that the main attack would fall on some part of the 2nd Sector, reinforced Serapeum, its central post, by the 2nd Raj puts from Moascar.
Additional warships now entered the Canal, the French cruiser D'Entrecasteaux taking station just north of the Great Bitter Lake and the Proserpine at Port Said. On the 1st February the Royal Indian Marine ship Hardinge took station just south of Lake Timsah and north of Tussum. The ships defending the 2nd Sector were, it will be seen, stationed either at the extremities of the section of the Canal forming it or; in the Requin's case, in Lake Timsah, since from these points only, owing to the height of the eastern bank about Tussum, could they bring oblique fire to bear upon an enemy advancing on that front. The Canal was now closed each night and reopened each morning, so that the interruption to traffic was not serious.
On the 28th aeroplanes located a force of between three and four thousand 8 miles east of Deversoir in the central Sector, which was next day observed to have increased considerably. A reconnaissance by the enemy on the morning of the 28th against the Qantara bridgehead, on the east bank, which reached the barbed wire, resulted in six casualties among the Sepoys of the 14th Sikhs and the 1/6th Gurkhas in the post. The Turks left three dead in front of the wire and dragged away several wounded.
On the 30th January the enemy closed in generally, the greatest concentration being observed east of Bir Habeita, about nine miles east of the Canal at Serapeum. He had been unable to disguise his intentions, and General Wilson awaited the main attack upon the 2nd or central Sector, with sufficient forces deployed upon the Canal and with strong reserves.