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Tuesday, 3 March 2009
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Official British History Account, Pt 8
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 Official British History Account, Pt 8

 

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. 46 -  50.

 

Chapter III

 

THE DAYS SUCCEEDING THE ATTACK.

To the astonishment of the garrison of the central 4 Feb. sector, expecting a renewal of the attack, it was discovered when day broke that the bulk of the Turkish force had disappeared. There were, however, at least some snipers south of Tussum Post, about mile-post 48.3, whence shots had been fired during the night. Br.-General Geoghegan ordered Captain L. F. A. Cochran to advance north along the east bank with two companies 92nd Punjabis from Serapeum Post and clear the area between it and Tussum.

Captain Cochran moved along the bank with one company, extending the other widely on his right to cut off the enemy's retreat to the east or north-east. At 8.40 a.m. he reached a hummock, on ascending which his company was fired on by a party of the enemy 120 yards away. His men lay down and returned the fire. Five minutes later some fifty Turks jumped up from their trench, holding their rifles butt uppermost, while one who looked like an officer waved something white. Captain Cochran advanced towards them, signalling to them with his hand to come over. A few unarmed Turks responded, then firing broke 4 Feb. out again and several Sepoys fell. There is no evidence of deliberate treachery in this affair. The Turks were divided in their intentions, and in any case the display of a white flag is more properly a request for a parley than a signal of surrender.

Major Z. N. Howard, brigade-major of the 22nd Indian Brigade, who had been watching from the west bank, saw that the number of the Turks was considerable and that they were strongly entrenched. He galloped back to Serapeum, whence Br.-General Geoghegan despatched a company from each of the 27th 2 and 62nd Punjabis and 128th Pioneers, [These two regiments belonged to the 31st Indian Brigade, in general reserve at Moascar, and the companies were part of the reinforcements brought up the previous afternoon.], under the command of Major Maclachlan, to Captain Cochran's assistance. A fire fight of about an hour followed, but, just as the British detachment was about to charge, the enemy surrendered. Six officers and 292 men, of whom 52 were seriously wounded, were captured, with three machine guns. The dead found in the position numbered 59, among them being the German staff officer who had supervised the crossing, Hauptmann von dem Hagen.

Opposite Ismailia and Qantara it was found that the enemy's trenches were deserted. At noon Br.-General W. A. Watson, commanding the Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade, with his own brigade, two infantry battalions and an Indian mountain battery, moved out from Ismailia Ferry Post. Seven miles north-east of Tussum a body of the enemy, estimated at three or four regiments, was seen. There was no sign of a general retreat, though further north a body of infantry was observed moving eastwards. The reconnaissance returned to the bridgehead after taking 25 prisoners and 70 camels, part of the Turkish water column.

On the morning of the 5th February aerial reconnaissance discovered that the enemy opposite the 2nd Sector was concentrated east of Bir Habeita in his old camp, upon which bombs were dropped. This force was subsequently seen to deploy and advance some distance as if about to renew the attack, but it passed out of sight into a valley and did not again emerge. To the north the enemy's right column was seen withdrawing through Qatiya, on the Mediterranean route. "To the south a small detachment of New Zealand Infantry, the 2/7th Gurkhas, a squadron of Imperial Service Cavalry, and a battery of East Lancashire Artillery, encountered 7 miles north-east of Esh Shatt a body of about 100 Turks, which fell back at its approach. On the 6th February mounted patrols from Qantara found Ed Dueidar evacuated by the Turks but were fired on by Bedouin. A camp of about a regiment was located at Rigum, east of the Great Bitter Lake, and another south-east of it at Moiya Harab. By the 10th February the only enemy reported in the neighbourhood of the Suez Canal was a body of 400 at Rigum.

No counter-offensive, it will be seen, was launched on the morning of the 4th February, when it was discovered that the enemy had fallen back from the neighbourhood of the Canal. The opportunity for the destruction of the Turkish central force unfortunately could not be taken. In the first place, though there were 70,000 troops in Egypt, only the Indian infantry brigades, and not all of them, were highly trained, while it was necessary to retain considerable strength in Cairo and elsewhere. The only point in the central Sector at which there were facilities for moving troops quickly to the east bank was at the floating bridge at Ismailia, the ferries being very slow and limited in carrying power for the purpose. The mounted troops at General Wilson's disposal on the morning of the 4th February were the Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade and the eight companies of the Bikanir Camel Corps. Certain squadrons and companies of these formations were distributed among the three sectors of the defence, the remainder being held in the neighbourhood of the bridge, over which the cavalry brigade made its reconnaissance on the afternoon of the 4th, as previously recorded. Late on the 3rd February Sir J. Maxwell ordered the Yeomanry stationed in Cairo [This unbrigaded force consisted of the Hertfordshire Yeomanry, the Westminster Dragoons, and one squadron Duke of Lancaster's Own], to move by train next morning to Ismailia, where it arrived on the evening of the 4th, but even then the cavalry consisted of 16 squadrons only, most of them, particularly the Indian troops, far from advanced in training. There were no water convoys in existence, the only water-carrying transport being the pack animals for water carriage in the first-line transport of the Indian units. The, force was therefore unsuitable in both composition and equipment for a counterstroke beyond the immediate vicinity of the Canal.

What was still more important - for, had an offensive policy been contemplated, there would have been time to have organized camel or donkey water transport before the enemy's advance - was that Sir J. Maxwell had been warned by Lord Kitchener not to risk a reverse, which would have had far-reaching effects. It had therefore been decided that, unless an exceptional opportunity offered itself, only local counter-attacks, followed by pursuit up to a distance of 10 miles, were to be attempted. Another factor was uncertainty as to the enemy's strength and intentions. Thus, on the 6th February, orders issued for a reconnaissance by a force of all arms from the Ferry Post were cancelled on receipt of information from agents that the enemy expected considerable reinforcements. The Turks were in fact on that date in full retreat, but it was not until the middle of the month that Sir J. Maxwell was assured that the troops which he had reason to suppose might be in reserve had not left Beersheba. The inability of the intelligence services to discover that these reserves had not crossed the frontier was largely due to the break-down of the hardworked French seaplanes, those which attempted at this critical moment to reconnoitre Beersheba failing owing to mechanical trouble. For over a fortnight they had been flying practically from dawn to dusk. On the 19th January El Arish was reconnoitred, on the 22nd Lieutenant de Vaisseau Delage dropped bombs on a camp at Bir el Abd, was forced to descend into the sea owing to engine trouble, and was brought back by a torpedo boat to Port Said. On the 23rd Lieutenant de Vaisseau de Sazieu reported columns between El Auja and Kossaima and 10,000 men at Beersheba, returning with numerous bullet-holes in his wings (Paul Chack: "On se bat sur Mer," p. 216).

Traffic on the Canal was suspended for a few nights and during the daylight hours of the 3rd February; otherwise communications with the East were not disturbed by the attack. Nor were the British casualties heavy, the total being 163, including ten naval, most of them suffered by the Hardinge.

 

Killed

British.

Indian.

Egyptian.

Officers

2

1

1

Other Ranks

2

24

2

 

 

 

 

Wounded

British.

Indian.

Egyptian

Officers

7

1

 

Other Ranks

11

109

2

 

[One civilian was wounded, the Canal Company's pilot, Mr. George Carew. After having had a leg shot off and an arm broken, he brought the Hardinge into the Timsah. He was awarded the Legion of Honour by the French Government.]

The losses of the enemy are difficult to fix with precision, but they were estimated by British Headquarters at over 2,000. [2 Between 30th January and 9th February 716 prisoners were captured ; between 28th January and 4th February 238 dead were buried, while a number of Turks were drowned in the Canal. The figures given by Kress ("Sinai" i, p. 16) are 192 killed, 371 wounded and 727 missing. These figures probably only refer to the central column, while it never appears to have been the custom of the Turkish command to record casualties suffered by their Bedouin allies and other irregulars. Prisoners reported that there were 200 killed opposite Qantara, probably Bedouin for the most part.]

These losses were not great, taking into consideration the strength of the force and the hazardous nature of its enterprise. The defeat suffered by the enemy was, however, a blow to Turkish prestige, though its damaging effect was lessened by the fact that the expedition had been able to disengage itself and return unmolested to its base. In Egypt the effect of the action was excellent, Sir J. Maxwell and the High Commissioner finding their difficulties much lightened. Turkey had fallen in the estimation of her admirers, while those whose sympathies were with the British, above all the Egyptian Government, were relieved of fears regarding their situation and confirmed in the attitude they had adopted.

 

Previous Chapter: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, THE ATTACK, Official British History Account, Pt 7

Next Chapter: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, THE ATTACK, FROM GERMAN AND TURKISH SOURCES, Official British History Account, Pt 9

 

Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Official British History Account, Pt 8


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 10:43 PM EADT

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