Topic: BatzS - Bir el Abd
Romani and Bir el Abd
Sinai, 4 - 9 August 1916
Falls Account, The Results of the Battle
The Battle of Romani, 4-6 August and Bir el Abd, 9 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. 199 - 201:
Part 6. The Results of the Battle.Romani was a considerable British victory. The enemy completely failed in his object and lost nearly four thousand prisoners, a mountain battery, 9 machine guns, 2,300 rifles and a million rounds of ammunition, 100 horses and mules, 500 camels, and two complete field hospitals. At Bir el Abd he destroyed a great quantity of his own stores. Judging by the number of Turkish dead found, Sir A. Murray put his total casualties at 9,000, and though according to the evidence of the enemy they were much lower, the number of prisoners alone represents nearly a quarter of the force. Liman states that the losses were one third of the force. This would be about 5,500 if only the attacking force at Romani is counted, or perhaps 6,000 if a fresh regiment believed to have been engaged at Bir el Abd is included. In contrast to these heavy losses, the British casualties numbered only 1,130, with a low proportion of killed and a very small proportion of missing.
Killed Wounded Missing Casualties Officers 22 81 1 104 Other Ranks 180 801 45 1,026 Total 202 882 46 1,130
Of these losses the majority were in the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division. It is improbable that more than about twenty of those reported missing fell into the hands of the enemy.
Nevertheless it was disappointing that the enemy should have been able to retire with his force in being and his artillery practically intact, after a complete defeat which had appeared to offer opportunities for his destruction. The causes of his escape will, it is hoped, have been made clear by the foregoing account, but it may be well to recapitulate them shortly.
In the first place, the retreat, especially the withdrawal of the heavy guns, was undoubtedly conducted with great skill by Kress and his staff. Kress's chief staff officer was apparently a Turk, Major Kadri Bey. The devotion of the troops, their extraordinary powers of endurance and of marching in the sand and heat, their swift restoration when they had fallen back on water and supplies, however meagre, constituted another important factor.
In the second place, Sir A. Murray's carefully prepared plan of enveloping the Turkish left had, as has been shown, to be modified and weakened owing to the Turkish advance through the skeleton position held by the 1st and 2nd L.H. Brigades having been more rapid than had been anticipated. In the words of his Despatch,
"the result of the somewhat rapid advance of the Turks from the south was that General Lawrence was obliged to divert the cavalry originally destined to operate against the enemy's rear to strengthen the line of resistance to the north."
Br. General Chaytor, it will be recalled, first received orders to move through Dueidar on Mount Royston, to take the enemy in flank and rear, but the progress of the Turks north-east of Mount Royston made it necessary for him to swing north-east to Canterbury Hill, and his attack was eventually almost a frontal movement. Yet it is possible that had Sir A. Murray's intentions been strictly carried out, without regard to the threat to the railway, the operations of the mounted troops would have resulted in a far greater haul of prisoners, and the main force of the enemy would have been virtually destroyed. Sir A. Murray himself had never been greatly concerned for his communications, considering that the Turks would be worn out by their exertions and exhausted by the heat if they ever reached them, and recognizing that a blow against the left flank or even left rear of the enemy would be infinitely more devastating than a frontal attack.
With regard to the question of co-ordination between infantry and cavalry, General Lawrence had decided, after careful consideration, not to move his battle headquarters to Romani, and did not do so till noon on the 6th August. At Qantara he was in communication with all parts of his front and behind the troops waiting at their water supply for the counter-attack. The lines of cable communication were:-
(i) Qantara-Pelusium Station-52nd Divisional Headquarters at Romani;
(ii) Qantara-Port Said-Mahamdiyah-Romani.
The first was extremely congested and also interrupted by shell fire during the battle; the second proved slow. Communication between the 52nd Division and its brigades was excellent, that in the 42nd Division, which had recently been moved out, not nearly so good.
Had he felt that circumstances permitted him to move earlier to Romani, it is possible that the delays on the 5th August might have been reduced. At least he would have seen why his reiterated orders to advance were not more quickly obeyed. Even then it is by no means certain that the infantry could have been moved forward in time to grip the retreating enemy, owing to the difficulties of water supply and - in the case of the 42nd Division - the inexperience in handling camels. Once on the move, the British infantry proved incapable, in the intense heat and soft sand, of approaching the speed of the Turks. Indeed, Sir A. Murray, in a telegram to the C.I.G.S. on the 8th August, stated that the latter could march almost as fast as his mounted troops.
"I cannot pursue with all the vigour I should like, because my infantry and the horses of the Mounted Division are exhausted. There were 800 men missing in one brigade of the 42nd Division on arrival at Qatiya, after a short march on 6th August. I am informed by the General Officer Commanding 52nd Division that many of his men are physically quite incapable of making a sustained effort. My cavalry are hardly faster in the desert than the Turkish infantry, who are fine active men in good condition. In other respects the situation is quite satisfactory, but I should have liked to have hunted the Turks east of Bir el Abd. Considering that we are operating in the Sinai Desert in the month of August, I think you may feel assured that we are doing, and shall continue to do, all that is physically possible. Myself and all ranks have much appreciated your message."
Yet another factor, though probably of less importance, was a certain lack of co-ordination in the movements of the mounted troops. The failure of the 3rd L.H. Brigade to support General Chauvel on the morning of the 5th August was serious, as this brigade constituted his freshest troops. The fact that Colonel Smith's Mobile Column was never under General Chauvel's command has been criticised, but the point is largely theoretical. Its failure to co-operate usefully, though it was boldly handled, was, like that of the 3rd L.H. Brigade on the 5th, due to difficulties of communication, owing to the fact that it was operating so wide on the flank.
Regrettable as the escape of the Turkish main body was, the enemy had suffered heavy defeat, the full consequences of which only appeared some time later. The Battle of Romani marks the end of the campaign against the Canal. Further attacks might be projected in Constantinople, but they were always found to be impracticable. The offensive had passed from the enemy. In the next few months Sir A. Murray, advancing steadily and methodically, was to drive him back across the Egyptian frontier and advance on his heels into Palestine.
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Citation: Romani and Bir el Abd, Falls Account, The Results of the Battle