Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915
Suez Canal Attack
Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915
Official British History Account, Pt 9
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. 50 - 52.
THE ATTACK, FROM GERMAN AND TURKISH SOURCES.
The Turkish right, or northern, column consisted of a squadron of cavalry and some mounted irregulars and Bedouin, with detachments of infantry from the 80th and 81st Regiments, 27th Division.
The central and main column marched in two echelons. The first consisted of the VIII Corps Headquarters (Major-General Djemal Pasha, Kuchuk, with Kress as Chief of the Staff), the 25th Division and the 68th Regiment, 23rd Division, three or four squadrons 29th Cavalry Regiment, a camel squadron, the 4th and 8th Engineer Battalions (both with pontoons), irregulars such as the "Champions of Islam," and mounted Bedouin.
The second echelon consisted of the 10th Division, with cavalry and auxiliary troops. With this marched Army Headquarters, Djemal Pasha, Biyuk (the Great) with Colonel von Frankenberg as Chief of the Staff. The total artillery with this column was one two-gun battery of 15-cm. howitzers and nine field batteries. [There was, however, a battery or at least a gun, of 12-cm. calibre in action north of Tussum, as was proved by fired cartridge cases picked up.]
The left, or southern, column consisted of the 69th Regiment, 23rd Division, mounted gendarmerie and irregulars, and a pack battery.
Most regiments appear to have left behind their third battalion, from which it is possible that the fittest men were transferred to the other two and the weak left in Palestine. With regard to numbers, Kress speaks of the expeditionary force as composed of "about 20,000 men," without stating whether this includes the northern and southern columns. Djemal Pasha puts the total force, including these columns, at 25,000 men, and this figure may probably be accepted as correct.
Kress states that the attack at Tussum failed for three reasons. In the first place the sandstorm delayed the attempt to cross until it was almost dawn. Of that we need make small account, for the boat-attack was in any case defeated before it was light. His second reason is more plausible: that neither the troops nor the subordinate command had sufficient discipline or training for an operation such as crossing a canal over 100 yards broad in face of opposition and in darkness. The third reason given for the failure is that the Turkish command committed the error of employing an Arab rather than a Turkish division in the first assault. [The VIII Corps belonged, as has been stated, to the Damascus Inspectorate, the recruiting area of the 23rd Division being Homs and that of the 25th Division Damascus.] The deep-seated, age-old hatred between Turk and Arab had been underestimated and it had been thought that a Holy War would unite the two races. The Arab soldiers proved unreliable and went over, sometimes in formed bodies, to the enemy.
Now, it is perhaps questionable whether Djemal should not have employed his best division, the 10th, of Turkish troops, for the crossing, but the remainder of the argument does not hold water. The total number of prisoners taken on the 3rd February on the Tussum-Serapeum front was 279, of whom a number were wounded and about 26 were taken on the west bank after a most gallant crossing. [A total of 25 pontoons was found by the British.] The vision of the faithless Arabs surrendering in formed bodies cannot therefore be taken seriously. Liman von Sanders states that the British fire caused a panic, which probably represents the situation more accurately.
A general retirement was ordered by Djemal (by his own account against
the advice of Kress) on the evening of the 3rd. Though his reserve was untouched, his pontoons were almost all destroyed, and he had observed that the British position had been reinforced. Kress gives his opinion
that the decision was correct and that a renewal of the attack might have led to the destruction of the force. He records that the return march was carried out in good order, undisturbed by the enemy. Dr. Paul Range, the chief authority regarding the Turkish water supply in the various campaigns, has a few words only to say on this matter, but he admits that the force had difficulties on its way back owing to lack of water. The bones of its transport animals subsequently found in Sinai are even surer testimony.
Kress concludes that, though the expedition against the Suez Canal failed to achieve the results anticipated, yet it was by no means fruitless. The fact that the Turks had been able to bring strong forces with heavy artillery across the desert caused anxiety in England and Egypt and compelled the British to hold the country strongly.
The explanation of the presence of Turkish troops at Rigum on the 10th February and of their constant appearance during the weeks that followed is that Djemal Pasha left Kress in the desert with three battalions, two mountain batteries, and a squadron of cavalry, to attempt to keep the British on the stretch by local attacks and to endanger the shipping in the Canal.