Topic: BatzS - Romani
Battle of Romani
Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916
Falls Account, The Turkish Advance.
The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August 1916
[Click on map for larger version]
[From: Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, Sketch 10 facing p. 178.]
As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917, was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.
MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 184 - 190:
Part 2. The Turkish Advance.
July opened quietly. Active patrolling was continued one reconnaissance reaching Bir Salmana on the 9th and finding it unoccupied. The most advanced Turkish camp was at Bir el Mazar, 42 miles east of Romani, where upwards of 2,000 troops were believed to be concentrated, but the garrison showed no sign of aggression. It appeared that, the season being so far gone, the long anticipated Turkish offensive would now be postponed until the winter.
Suddenly the situation changed. On the 17th July enemy aircraft showed great activity over the Romani area. The German aeroplanes were faster and better climbers than any which Sir A. Murray had at his disposal, and though they did not prevent the British machines from reconnoitring the country ahead, they established a definite superiority in the air which was long to endure. [For a statement of the situation, see Note III at end of Chapter. The new German 300th Flight Detachment is mentioned in Note 1.] On the 19th July a British aeroplane, with Brigadier General E. W. C. Chaytor, commanding the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, acting as observer, discovered that a force estimated at 2,500 had occupied Bir Bayud and that there was a somewhat smaller concentration at Gameil. [Gameil, a small oasis, is west of Bir Bayud.] On the northern route there was a force of equal strength at Bir el Abd, where tents were visible among the groves. Some 6,000 camels were also seen at the camps or moving between Bir el Abd and Bir Salmana. By the morning of the 20th there had been another move forward. Three thousand men were now entrenched at Mageibra, and Bir el Abd had evidently been made an advanced depot for supplies and stores. There was also a small force so far forward as Oghratina, which had grown to 2,000 by the following morning. It was obvious that the Turkish offensive was after all about to be launched.
On receipt of General Chaytor's report, G.H.Q. took steps to reinforce the Romani position, still known as No. 3 Section Canal Defences and commanded by Major-General the Honorable H. A. Lawrence. Two battalions of the 42nd Division were moved up from No. 2 Section to Qantara and the 158th Brigade of the 53rd Division sent out to Romani on the 20th. The troops already at General Lawrence's disposal were the  52nd Division and the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division, less the 3rd L.H. Brigade. On the night of the 22nd the dispositions in No. 3 Section were as follows:
On the main position:-
155th Brigade on the right (Redoubts 23, 22, 21 and 1 to 5);
158th Brigade (less one battalion) in the centre (Redoubts 6 to l0a);
157th Brigade on the left, holding the remainder of the line to the sea; and,
156th Brigade and one battalion 158th in reserve at Romani Station.
1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades.
At Hill 70: -
N.Z.M.R. Brigade (less 5th A.L.H.), [The Wellington Regiment was attached at this time and throughout the Battle of Romani to the 2nd L.H. Brigade, and the 5th A.L.H. to the N.Z. M.R. Brigade.] and
Composite Regiment 5th Mounted Brigade. [The 5th Mounted Brigade had been in process of reorganization on the Canal after its losses at Qatiya and was gradually being brought up to Hill 70. A composite regiment of two squadrons Gloucester Yeomanry and one squadron Worcester Yeomanry, was moved up on the 20th. The third squadron of the Gloucester Yeomanry was at Pelusium when the Turks attacked the Australian outposts on the 4th August.] (Section Mounted Troops.)
At Hill 40:-
1st Dismounted Yeomanry Brigade.
The total rifle strength was about 14,000.
A relatively small proportion of the available artillery had been brought up owing to the shortage of water for the teams. The guns in position, including those sent up within the next few days, consisted of
one battery 60-pdrs.,
two batteries 4.5-inch howitzers, and
four 18-pdr, batteries.
The Ayr and Leicester Batteries R.H.A., with the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division, brought the total up to 36 guns.
Two 18-pdr. batteries 263rd Brigade, in position south of the railway, to fire south and south-east;
One 60-pdr, battery, 2 howitzer batteries 262nd Brigade and one 18-pdr. battery 260th Brigade in the centre, within the loop formed by the railway;
One 18-pdr. battery 260th Brigade on the shore near Mahamdiyah.
The employment of "ped-rails" - short wooden planks fastened to each wheel of the guns and wagons-had greatly increased the mobility of field artillery in the desert. Their object was to distribute the weight resting at any moment on the sand over a considerable surface, and thus minimize the sinking of the wheel. They were used throughout the campaign in Sinai and only removed when the comparatively firm soil of Southern Palestine was reached.
The water supply, which limited the amount of artillery that could be maintained at Romani, had a similar effect  with regard to troops. Sir A. Murray decided not to increase the force of four infantry brigades, but moved up the 160th and 161st Machine-Gun Companies, of the 53rd and 54th Divisions respectively, thus greatly increasing his fire power at a comparatively small cost in water. Meanwhile with the possibility of offensive action before his eyes, he ordered the concentration of a small mobile column of mounted troops and Imperial Camel Corps in No. 2 Section, [11th A.L.H. (less one squadron), City of London Yeomanry (less one squadron), 4th, 6th, and 9th Companies Imperial Camel Corps.] under the command of Lieut.-Colonel C. L. Smith, Imperial Camel Corps, and assembled the camel transport necessary to enable the 42nd Division to advance into the desert.
The two brigades of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division at Romani redoubled their activity in patrolling. On the 20th July the 2nd L.H. Brigade, with two guns of the Ayrshire Battery, demonstrated against Oghratina and captured several prisoners, from whom the enemy's order of battle was learnt. It appeared that the Turkish force was commanded by Kress in person and consisted of the 3rd Division, of which one regiment had proved its marching and fighting qualities at Qatiya, and a regiment of camelry ; with a number of special machine-gun companies, heavy and mountain artillery, officered and partly manned by Germans and Austrians. [Fuller details of the enemy's force, from Turkish sources, are given in Turkish Forces.] From this date until the opening of the battle one of the two Light Horse brigades at Romani marched out each morning towards Qatiya at 2 a.m., and bivouacked till dawn in front of the position. It then advanced on a wide front until it had drawn the enemy's fire. If the Turkish outposts were weak, they were driven in; if the enemy appeared disposed to counter-attack, the brigade retired slowly. It returned to camp at nightfall, and the second brigade carried out an identical manoeuvre next day.
Until the 28th the enemy remained quiet, but that morning he was found to have occupied the Hod um Ugba, 5 miles east of the British line. Lieut.-Colonel W. Meldrum, commanding the Wellington Regiment, proposed to eject him from this position, which did not appear to be strongly held. Approval was given to his suggestion, and a brisk  attack by two squadrons, supported by two guns and several machine guns, drove the Turks from the hod, with the loss of 8 prisoners of the 31st Regiment.
The enemy's hesitation, his cautious advance and careful entrenchment of successive positions, was puzzling to G.H.Q., which asked for nothing better than an attack upon the Romani defences. We now know that the long pause was due simply to the fact that the Turks were awaiting their heavy artillery, delayed by the necessity for constructing tracks through the areas of heaviest sand and even then compelled to move by very short stages. But to the British command it seemed possible that Kress was not, after all, contemplating an attack, and that he would content, himself with sitting down and blocking the British advance. In this case it was probable that he would soon receive reinforcements, and it was therefore necessary to be prepared to attack him before they arrived. The Commander-in-Chief considered it scarcely possible that the Turks could attack in force elsewhere than on the northern route, and was prepared to reduce the troops in Nos. 1 and 2 Sections to a minimum. He calculated that all his preparations for the equipment of his force with camel transport would be complete by the 3rd August, but he decided to give the enemy another ten days, and instructed General Lawrence to be prepared to attack about the 13th, the date of the full moon, unless himself attacked earlier.
Sir A. Murray also discussed with Vice-Admiral Sir R. E. Wemyss, commanding the East Indies Station, the possibility of a landing at El Arish and the destruction of the Turkish base there. It was proposed to land an infantry brigade 3,000 strong, with detachments of engineers, and to construct entrenchments which it might be necessary, on that treacherous coast, to hold for several days while awaiting weather conditions favourable for re-embarkation. The C.I.G.S. cordially approved of the proposal and in fact agreed with reluctance to its abandonment when the victory of Romani and the retreat of the enemy towards El Arish had altered the situation.
The advance to the Hod um Ugba on the 28th, disturbed though it was by the Wellington Regiment, proved to be the beginning of the Turkish offensive. Next morning the enemy's line again ran through the hod, stretching for a short distance north of the caravan route and about six miles  south of it, to a point west of Badieh. By the morning of the 3rd August it was evident that he was at last about to launch his attack, for he had moved forward to Qatiya. His line now ran north-east and south-west, from the Bardawil Lagoon to east of Qatiya, with his left flank thrown well forward.
To Sir A. Murray it appeared that the enemy commander was bound down to one plan of operations. It was incredible that he should throw his main weight against the prepared defences. What was anticipated was a containing attack against these defences and an attack with all available strength against the British right south of Katib Gannit. A manoeuvre of this nature would obviously expose the Turkish left flank to an attack by mounted troops, an arm in which the British were strong and the enemy weak. To meet an attack designed to turn his right and pass round it against the camps at Romani and the railway, Sir A. Murray's plan was as follows. In the first place, the enemy was to be delayed and made to pay as dearly as possible for every foot of ground won south of Katib Gannit; then, when he was thoroughly committed and, it was hoped, in some degree disorganized, he was to be attacked in flank by the Section Mounted Troops from Hill 70 and Dueidar, and by the 3rd L.H. Brigade from the Canal Defences, while the Mobile Column already described operated more widely against his flank and rear.
The former of these two elements in the scheme of defence was ensured by a concealed prolongation of the right flank south of Katib Gannit. Major-General Chauvel, after a careful reconnaissance, had selected a position from Katib Gannit to the Hod el Enna, some four miles long, with a second position covering the series of parallel gullies, running south-east and north-west, which gave access to the area of soft sand in rear of the Romani defences. No entrenchments were made, as they would have betrayed the position to the active enemy aircraft, but telephone lines were laid down and the officers of the 1st and 2nd L. H. Brigades made themselves thoroughly acquainted with the ground. It was on these two brigades, under the command of General Chauvel, that was to fall the task of holding up the enemy till he could be taken in flank by the rest of the mounted troops, echeloned in rear. These were on the 3rd August disposed as follows At Dueidar:-
5th A.L.H. This regiment which, as has been stated, temporarily formed part of the N.Z.M.R. Brigade, was sent forward at night to reconnoitre the Turkish left, the Auckland Regiment taking its place at Dueidar.
At Hill 70:-
N.Z.M.R. Brigade (less 5th A.L.H.) and 5th Mounted Brigade, still Section Mounted Troops, that is, under General Lawrence's direct command.
At Ballybunion, the railhead of the metre-gauge railway from Ballah:
3rd L.H. Brigade.
At the railhead of the metre-gauge railway from Ferdan:-
The 42nd Division had been concentrated at Qantara between the 20th July and the end of the month, and by the 3rd August moved out along the railway and disposed as follows:
At Gilban Station:-127th Brigade.
At Hill 70:-126th Brigade.
At Hill 40:-125th Brigade.
As it seemed probable that the enemy would attack next morning, the 1st L.H. Brigade was ordered to occupy at dusk the skeleton position south-west of Katib Gannit, with two regiments in line and one in reserve. The 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades had had heavy and trying work in the desert heat and were both below strength, so that when horseholders and other details were deducted neither had more than eight hundred rifles available for dismounted action.
The preparations were now complete. British monitors had been lying off Mahamdiyah for some days, shelling the assembling Turkish force. An armoured train was in a siding at Qantara, ready to assist in the defence of the right flank. All available aircraft had been collected at Ismailia, Qantara, Port Said and Romani.
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Citation: Battle of Romani, Sinai, August 4 to 5, 1916, Falls Account, The Turkish Advance.