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Monday, 4 February 2002
Desert Column (DC), General Murray's Despatches, Part 2
Topic: AIF - DMC

DC

Desert Column

General Murray's Despatches, Part 2

 

General Sir Archibald James Murray GCMG, KCB, CVO, DSO.

 

General Sir Archibald James Murray GCMG, KCB, CVO, DSO (23 April 1860 - 21 January 1945) was a British Army officer during the Great War, known as commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force from 1916 to 1917.

 

SUPPLEMENT TO

The London Gazette

Of

FRIDAY, the 1st of DECEMBER, 1916.

War Office,

1st December, 1916. The Secretary of State for War has received the following despatches from General Sir Archibald Murray, K.C.B., Commander-in-Chief, Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

 

General Headquarters,

Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

1st October, 1916.

SIR,

I have the honour to submit a report on the operations of the Force under my command from the 1st June to 30th September, 1916.

1. On the eastern front, during the month of June, vigorous counter-measures, culminating in the successful attack on the enemy's aerodrome at El Arish, were undertaken to check the much increased activity of hostile aircraft. This operation was brilliantly carried out on the morning of the 18th June. The first British, machine to arrive descended to 100 feet and attacked, blowing to pieces an aeroplane on the ground and its attendant personnel. A second machine on the ground was also put out of action by bombs. Heavy fire from rifles and anti-aircraft guns was now opened on the attackers, but the British pilots carried out their orders most gallantly. Altogether six out of the ten hangars were hit, and two, if not three, were burnt to the ground. A party of soldiers on the aerodrome was also successfully bombed, and at the close one of the observing machines attacked the hangars with its machine gun from a height of 1,200 feet. During the action three of our machines were, forced to descend; two were destroyed and one sank in the sea. Two of the pilots were rescued, and the third was taken prisoner.

On the eastern front there was comparatively little activity during the month of June, beyond the usual patrols and reconnaissances, which were actively carried out. A column of Australian Light Horse, with detachments of engineers and of Bikanir Camel Corps, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel T. J. Todd, D.S.O., successfully executed the task of draining the rock cisterns and pools in the Wadi Um Muksheib, some 40 miles S.E. of Ismailia, between 10th and 14th June. Some 5,000,000 gallons of water were disposed of in four days and nights of continuous effort, and the fact that every man and animal that left railhead on 10th June returned safely testifies to the efficiency of the staff arrangements. A column of Yeomanry co-operated with this force, and did very good work.

2. On 10th and 11th June, Bir Bayud, Bir El Mageibra and Bir El Jefeir were reconnoitred. Enemy stores and huts were destroyed at Hod El Bayud, and at Hod El Dababis a hostile patrol was successfully disposed of. On 15th June Bir El Abd was reconnoitred, and between 21st and 23rd June a reconnaissance of the Hod El Ge'eila,Hod Urn El Dhaunnin and Hod El Mushalfat area was carried out by an Australian Light Horse Brigade. During the latter operation one of our aeroplanes was reported missing, and the reconnoitring troops were ordered to find it. This they successfully accomplished, after considerable prolonged exertion in trying weather conditions, and the damaged engine and the machine gun were brought in on the 23rd. Bir El Abd and Mageibra were reconnoitred on 30th June and found to be clear of the enemy.

At the beginning of July a small reconnaissance was carried out from Abu Zeneima by detachments of the Sikh Pioneers and the Bikanir Camel Corps, under the command of Major W. J. Ottley. The column left Abu Zeneima on 11th July and returned on 14th July, having captured an Arab Sheikh and some other prisoners.

3. As regards the western front, during the month no important enemy movements took place. In the coastal section reconnaissances by aeroplane, motor and camel corps, to assure the safety of the Sollum post, were carried out, irrespective of frontier, and with the agreement of the Italian local military authorities, with whom a complete accord has been established by the interchange of visits between the respective commanders. Progress on the Baharia railway continued, though slower than was anticipated, and the defences of posts in the Kharga Oasis were completed. Aeroplane reconnaissance established the continued presence of an enemy force of some 1,800 rifles in the Dakhla Oasis. On 25th and 26th July a raid from Sollum was carried out by a detachment of light armoured cars, under the command of Captain C. G. Mangles, Hussars, in conjunction with some motor cars and personnel furnished by the Italian garrison of Bardia, supported by half a company Imperial Camel Corps, and by the Italian armed yacht "Misurata," ably commanded by Captain Como, Italian Navy. The objective was a party of some 100 Muhafzia, located near the mouth of the Wadi Sanal, in Italian territory, 40 miles west of Has El Melh, whence they had been robbing the Bedouin under pretence of collecting taxes for the Senussi. A complete surprise was effected, but only about twenty-five Muhafzia were found in camp. These fled towards the sea, after a slight .resistance, leaving six killed and three prisoners. Scattered groups on the seashore came under the gun fire of the "Misurata." The importance of this well-conducted operation lies in the proof which it gave to the Arabs of the close co-operation and good fellowship that existed between our Italian neighbours and ourselves.

4. More than half the month of July passed without any important occurrence on the eastern front. In the northern section mounted troops carried out frequent reconnaissances to the east, penetrating on 9th July as far as Salmana, but found the country clear of all but a few Bedouin. On 17th July, however, enemy aircraft were active over the Romani-Dueidar area, and on the 15th a patrol came in contact with a camel patrol of fifteen Turks, with whom shots were exchanged. The Turks retired rapidly eastwards. Up till this date there was no considerable body of Turkish troops further west than Bir El Mazar, some 18 miles east of Oghratina, where for some time there had been a camp of between 1,500 and 2,000.

The situation suddenly changed on 19th July, when an evening reconnaissance by the Royal Flying Corps revealed the fact that a. large force of the enemy had moved westwards from El Arish and established itself on the line Bir El Abd-Bir Jameil-Bir Bayud. Their numbers were estimated to be between 8,000 and 9,000, of which from 3,000 to 4,000 were at Bir El Abd, and the remainder divided between the other two places. It was not immediately clear whether the enemy's intention was to repeat the raid of 23rd April on the Qatia district on a larger scale, or to make a more deliberate advance, but I at once decided, on receipt of this information, to reinforce the troops in this area.

Early on the morning of the 20th the cavalry reported that Oghratina was .held by strong forces of the enemy, who were entrenching. This was confirmed by the Royal Flying Corps, who further reported that the pile of stores at Bir el Abd had increased in size, and that the troops reported on the previous evening at Bir Jameil and Bir El Bayud had moved. A further air reconnaissance, in the afternoon, revealed that this force had moved to Mageibra, where there were between 2,000 and 3,000 men,, with bodies of between 500 and 600 moving on a line between that place and Oghratina. Instructions were issued that the enemy was to be allowed to become involved in an attack on our defences, if he would, and that any such intention was not to be hindered by a premature counter-attack. The cavalry were in touch with the enemy all day, capturing a few prisoners, from whose information it appeared that the force in front of us was the 3rd Turkish Division, consisting of the 31st, 32nd, and 39th Regiments, with mountain guns, heavy artillery, and special machine gun companies; the artillery was manned by Turks, Germans and Austrians, and .there were Germans with all the machine gun companies. Prisoners also stated that there were other echelons following behind these advanced troops at a distance of one day's march. This information was confirmed in all essentials by the complete knowledge subsequently obtained of the attacking force, except that prisoners all exaggerated the number of troops that was following behind them. The whole force consisted of the Turkish 3rd Division, with eight machine gun companies, officered and partly manned by Germans, mountain artillery, and some batteries of 4-inch and 6-inch howitzers and anti-aircraft guns, manned chiefly by Austrians, with a body of Arab Camelry. It was commanded by Colonel Kress Von Kressenstein, a German officer in Turkish employ, and the German personnel of the machine gun units, heavy artillery, wireless sections, field hospital and supply section had been organised in Germany as a. special formation for operations with the Turkish forces. The force was in fine physical condition and admirably equipped.

On the evening of the 20th a demonstration with artillery against Oghratina disclosed the fact that the enemy were entrenching on a general line running south-east from Oghratina, with their left flank thrown forward to Mageibra, which was strongly held. Bir El Abd was used by the enemy as an advanced base throughout the operations.

During the next few days .there was no appreciable change in the situation. The enemy confined himself to closing up his troops and strengthening the position already occupied, pushing forward in one or two places and entrenching wherever he established himself. There were constant encounters between our cavalry patrols and the enemy's, but the latter handled his covering troops well and extended his right flank far enough northwards to prevent anything less than a very strong attack from interfering with his communications along the Bir El Abd-Oghratina road.

By the 24th the enemy had established a force, estimated at 5,000 men, in a series of entrenched positions extending from Hod En Negiliat through Oghratina to Hod El Masia, with supporting bodies of about 1,000 each at Bir Abu Afein and Bir El Abd behind his right flank. On his left Mageibra was entrenched with a series of strong redoubts and held by some 3,000 troops, with small connecting posts northward to Hod El Masia.

By 22nd July it was evident that the enemy had no intention of making an immediate raid upon the Qatia district, .but was either contemplating a serious attack upon the canal defences further west or preparing to establish himself firmly in the Um Alsha district, so as to block our further advance towards El Arish, to protect his own communications between Syria and the Hedjaz, and to prevent us from denying to him the whole of the Qatia area— the only district within which he could collect and maintain any considerable, force within striking distance of the Suez Canal. In either case, whether, on the first alternative, he was waiting for further echelons to arrive before attacking, or, on the second, he was preparing to establish himself permanently, there was only one course of action that commended itself to me—namely, to attack the enemy and inflict a decisive defeat upon him as soon as possible. To do this forthwith was impracticable, since 15 miles of desert separated my main position from that of the enemy, and it would be absolutely necessary that any force destined to advance across this tract to an attack on a strong enemy position should be equipped with camel transport on a very complete scale. While I was compelled, therefore, to remain for the moment on the tactical defensive, I took immediate steps to put everything in train for the adoption of a vigorous offensive at the earliest possible moment. The General Officer in command in the locality was instructed to formulate his plan for the earliest possible assumption of the offensive, and to proceed with all speed with the mobilisation of his striking force on a pack basis with camel transport. I calculated that all arrangements would be completed during the first days of August, and this calculation was borne out by events. By 3rd August all the formations were ready to take the field. My intention was to attack the enemy in force about 13th August, the date of full moon, unless myself attacked earlier. Major-General Hon. H. H. Lawrence was placed in local command of the operations.

During this period of energetic preparation the Mounted Troops kept in constant touch with the enemy, harassing him in every possible way and making valuable reconnaissances; and the Royal Flying Corps, having concentrated all available machines and pilots in Egypt on the Eastern Front, was able to make valuable report upon the enemy's movements in rear of his advanced line.

On the night of the 27/28th the enemy pushed forward all along his front and occupied a line in advance of his former entrenched position, running from the eastern end of Sabkhet El Amy a on the north, south-eastwards to Abu Darem on the south. On his right the advance was-small, for his .advanced troops, which at one time advanced to Hod Um Ugba, were driven back after a sharp skirmish by the Canterbury Mounted Rifles, the enemy sustaining heavy losses. The chief advance was made by his left flank, which swung up in a north-westerly direction from Mageibra to Abu Darem. It now seemed likely that the enemy meant to attack, but for the next few days be continued strengthening his new positions, while continual reinforcements were observed to be reaching him along the northern road. This movement of reinforcements ceased on 31st July, by which date the enemy appeared to have completed the concentration of troops in his front line. From 29th July onwards the Royal Flying Corps, whose role had hitherto been only one of observation, passed to the offensive, and constantly harassed the enemy with bomb attacks. From the 30th onwards H.M. Monitors lying off Mahemdia rendered most valuable assistance in shelling the enemy's camps and works, in which the Royal Flying Corps successfully co-operated. On 28th July I gave instructions for the formation of a mobile column, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel C. L. Smith, V.C., Imperial Camel Corps, to operate against the enemy's left flank and left rear in the neighbourhood of Mageibra and Bayud respectively. This mobile column proved itself invaluable in subsequent operations.

The Mahemdia-Romani position consisted of a series of strong poste extending southwards from the sea to a point on the east of the Katib Gannit hill, and thence curving backwards round the southern slope of that hill north-westwards towards Etmaler.

On 2nd August there were indications of a forward move on the part of the enemy, who made a strong reconnaissance towards Er Rabah-Qatia and Bir El Hamisah, but his advanced troops were driven in, except on the north, by the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Troops after some sharp encounters. By the evening of the 2nd August his general position was but little altered. Even up to this time it was still uncertain whether the ultimate assumption of the offensive would come from our side or the enemy's, but on the following day the enemy disclosed his intention of taking the initiative by making a general move forward and occupying a semi-circular line running from the immediate west of Hill 110, past the high ground north-west of Rabah, over the high ground east and south-east of Qatia to the high ground north-west of Bir Hamisah. It then appeared certain that he would attack the Romani-Mahemdia position, and it appeared to me extremely probable that, while holding us east of that position, he would throw his main attack against the Katib Gannit-Bir El Nuss line in a north-westerly direction, with the object of forcing back our entrenched line before we could interfere from the west and north-west. I warned General Lawrence of this possibility, which was confirmed by events.

5. On the night of the 3rd/4th August, owing to the proximity of the enemy at Qatia, the cavalry, in addition to leaving out the usual officers' patrols, put out a strong outpost line which extended from just south of Katib Gannit along the entrance to the gullies between the sand dunes up to and including Hod El Enna, thus preventing the enemy from penetrating unobserved into the waterless area of sand dunes south-west of Romani, into which I anticipated he would attempt to move. This outpost line, formed by two regiments, was attacked by the enemy in increasing strength from midnight onwards. Several attempts to force the line were repulsed, a bayonet charge on Mount Meredith, a high sand dune midway between Katib Gannit and Hod El Enna, being beaten off between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. The continuous pressure of the enemy gradually forced back the outpost line, which by 4.20 a.m. was facing generally south along the dune called Wellington Ridge, between Mount Meredith and Katib Gannit. Before long the enemy's threat to outflank our right made it necessary to retire slowly northwards towards the railway. It was evident by daylight that the enemy had committed his troops to a decisive attack, as he was pressing the line of fortified works from the east under cover of artillery fire from field guns and heavy howitzers at the same time as he was moving round the southern flank of the position with strong forces, before which our cavalry, while stubbornly resisting, were slowly retiring.

The situation had developed in accordance with my anticipations, and it was certain that, once the force of the enemy's attack from the south was spent, a decisive and rapid counter-attack would place him in a position of great difficulty. General Lawrence issued orders for all available troops to be ready to operate against the enemy's southern flank in the direction of Mount Royston, a high sand dune about two miles south of Pelusium Station: a Mounted Brigade was directed to act vigorously from Dueidar towards Hod El Enna; another Mounted Brigade was ordered to send one regiment to Hod El Aras, and to be prepared to follow it up with the whole Brigade, so as to co-operate with the first-mentioned Mounted Brigade. Finally, I issued orders to the Mobile Column, under Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, V.C., to commence operations against the enemy's left rear towards Mageibra and Bir Aweidiya, working wide of the flank of the last-named Mounted Brigade. This Column at once started for Hod El Bada, which it reached by the evening of the 4th.

During the forenoon the enemy made several attacks against the Romani-Mehemdia defences from the east, south and south-west. These were repulsed by the garrisons, composed of Scottish and Welsh Infantry, with considerable loss, and in spite of heavy artillery fire from the enemy's heavy howitzers, which in one or two cases inflicted severe casualties on our troops, who behaved with admirable steadiness. The fire of these howitzers, however, was very effectively kept down by the guns of the monitors, with the co-operation of the Royal Flying Corps.

There was, unfortunately, more delay than had been anticipated in moving up the infantry reinforcements to Pelusium Station, so that during the morning of the 4th no infantry was available for an attack on the enemy's flank at Mount Royston. This caused the whole brunt of the fighting in this area to fall upon the cavalry, whose casualties had not been light, and whose right flank was unprotected. A squadron of cavalry from 7.45 a.m. onwards held off attacks from the south-east for three hours till a yeomanry regiment, which had come into action at 9.45, gained touch with it. 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 on the north. By 12.30 p.m. the enemy on our southern flank reached the furthest point of his advance—a line running from Bir Abu Diyuk, north of Mount Royston, along the southern slopes of Wellington Ridge, and thence bending round to the east and north facing the southernmost infantry post. Shortly after 1 p.m. New Zealand mounted troops, with some Yeomanry, began to attack Mount Royston from the west. This attack was pressed slowly forward, and was accompanied, in spite of heavy fire from the enemy, by a general move forward of the cavalry. By 3.30 p.m. two battalions of the E. Lancashire Regiment, closely followed by a third, were on the march southwards from Pelusium Station, and by 4 p.m. all the troops were ordered to press forward for the counter-attack and gain and hold the line Mount Royston-Wellington Ridge. By 6.30 p.m. Mount Royston, with about 500 prisoners, some machine guns, and a battery of mountain artillery were in our hands. At 6 p.m. an attack was made on Wellington Ridge by infantry, supported by the fire of our artillery. The ridge was strongly held, and, owing to darkness, the enemy remained in possession of part of it during the night. The result of the day's fighting was that we had repulsed a vigorous attack, capturing between 500 and 1,000 prisoners, retaken Mount Royston and part of Wellington Ridge, and were pressing back on the south a now exhausted enemy. The outpost line for the night was taken up by the leading battalions, with some of the cavalry in the centre. Some Australian cavalry which had reached Hill 70, was ordered on to Dueidar to be ready to take up the right flank of the pursuit.

Vigorous action, to the utmost limits .of endurance, was ordered for the next day, and the troops, in spite of the heat, responded nobly. At daybreak the Scottish Territorial Infantry, assisted by Australian and New Zealand mounted troops, took the remainder of Wellington Ridge by assault, capturing about 1,500 prisoners. Elsewhere the mounted troops pressed forward, meeting with some opposition, but prisoners continued to come in steadily, and it was soon obvious that the enemy's offensive was completely broken. An advance was ordered all along the line, and all mounted troops were put under the command of General Chauvel, with orders to push on as far and as vigorously as the resources at Ibis disposal would permit.

The mounted troops pressed steadily forward, and found the enemy holding the ridges Katib Gannit-Bir El Nuss line in a north-westerly direction, with the object of forcing back our entrenched line before we could interfere from the west and north-west. I warned General Lawrence of this possibility, which was confirmed by events.

5. On the night of the 3rd/4th August, owing to the proximity of the enemy at Qatia, the cavalry, in addition to leaving out the usual officers' patrols, put out a strong outpost line which extended from just south of Katib Gannit along the entrance to the gullies between the sand dunes up to and including Hod El Enna, thus preventing the enemy from penetrating unobserved into the waterless area of sand dunes south-west of Romani, into which I anticipated he would attempt to move. This outpost line, formed by two regiments, was attacked by the enemy in increasing strength from midnight onwards. Several attempts to force the line were repulsed, a bayonet charge on Mount Meredith, a high sand dune midway between Katib Gannit and Hod El Enna, being beaten off between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. The continuous pressure of the enemy gradually forced back the outpost line, which by 4.20 a.m. was facing generally south along the dune called Wellington Ridge, between Mount Meredith and Katib Gannit. Before long the enemy's threat to outflank our right made it necessary to retire slowly northwards towards the railway. It was evident by daylight that the enemy had committed his troops to a decisive attack, as he was pressing the line of fortified works from the east under cover of artillery fire from field guns and heavy howitzers at the same time as he was moving round the southern flank of the position with strong forces, before which our cavalry, while stubbornly resisting, were slowly retiring.

The situation had developed in accordance with my anticipations, and it was certain that, once the force of the enemy's attack from the south was spent, a decisive and rapid counter-attack would place him in a position of great difficulty. General Lawrence issued orders for all available troops to be ready to operate against the enemy's southern flank in the direction of Mount Royston, a high sand dune about two miles south of Pelusium Station: a Mounted Brigade was directed to act vigorously from Dueidar towards Hod El Enna; another Mounted Brigade was ordered to send one regiment to Hod El Aras, and to be prepared to follow it up with the whole Brigade, so as to co-operate with the first-mentioned Mounted Brigade. Finally, I issued orders to the Mobile Column, under Lieutenant-Colonel Smith, V.C., to commence operations against the enemy's left rear towards Mageibra and Bir Aweidiya, working wide of the flank of the last-named Mounted Brigade. This Column at once started for Hod El Bada, which it reached by the evening of the 4th.

During the forenoon the enemy made several attacks against the Romani-Mehemdia defences from the east, south and south-west. These were repulsed by the garrisons, composed of Scottish and Welsh Infantry, with considerable loss, and in spite of heavy artillery fire from the enemy's heavy howitzers, which in one or two cases inflicted severe casualties on our troops, who behaved with admirable steadiness. The fire of these howitzers, however, was very effectively kept down by the guns of the monitors, with the co-operation of the Royal Flying Corps.

There was, unfortunately, more delay than had been anticipated in moving up the infantry reinforcements to Pelusium Station, so that during the morning of the 4th no infantry was available for an attack on the enemy's flank at Mount Royston. This caused the whole brunt of the fighting in this area to fall upon the cavalry, whose casualties had not been light, and whose right flank was unprotected. A squadron of cavalry from 7.45 a.m. onwards held off attacks from the south-east for three hours till a yeomanry regiment, which had come into action at 9.45, gained touch with it. 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 on the north. By 12.30 p.m. the enemy on our southern flank reached the furthest point of his advance—a line running from Bir Abu Diyuk, north of Mount Royston, along the southern slopes of Wellington Ridge, and thence bending round to the east and north facing the southernmost infantry post. Shortly after 1 p.m. New Zealand mounted troops, with some Yeomanry, began to attack Mount Royston from the west. This attack was pressed slowly forward, and was accompanied, in spite of heavy fire from the enemy, by a general move forward of the cavalry. By 3.30 p.m. two battalions of the E. Lancashire Regiment, closely followed by a third, were on the march southwards from Pelusium Station, and by 4 p.m. all the troops were ordered to press forward for the counter-attack and gain and hold the line Mount Royston-Wellington Ridge. By 6.30 p.m. Mount Royston, with about 500 prisoners, some machine guns, and a battery of mountain artillery were in our hands. At 6 p.m. an attack was made on Wellington Ridge by infantry, supported by the fire of our artillery. The ridge was strongly held, and, owing to darkness, the enemy remained in possession of part of it during the night. The result of the day's fighting was that we had repulsed a vigorous attack, capturing between 500 and 1,000 prisoners, retaken Mount Royston and part of Wellington Ridge, and were pressing back on the south a now exhausted enemy. The outpost line for the night was taken up by the leading battalions, with some of the cavalry in the centre. Some Australian cavalry which had reached Hill 70, was ordered on to Dueidar to be ready to take up the right flank of the pursuit.

Vigorous action, to the utmost limits .of endurance, was ordered for the next day, and the troops, in spite of the heat, responded nobly. At daybreak the Scottish Territorial Infantry, assisted by Australian and New Zealand mounted troops, took the remainder of Wellington Ridge by assault, capturing about 1,500 prisoners. Elsewhere the mounted troops pressed forward, meeting with some opposition, but prisoners continued to come in steadily, and it was soon obvious that the enemy's offensive was completely broken. An advance was ordered all along the line, and all mounted troops were put under the command of General Chauvel, with orders to push on as far and as vigorously as the resources at Ibis disposal would permit.

The mounted troops pressed steadily forward, and found the enemy holding the ridges west of Quatia, supported by artillery. The Australian Light Horse, which had moved forward from Dueidar by Bir El Nuss, came into contact with the enemy near Bir El Hamisah and captured some 450 prisoners, with machine guns and other materiel. The further advance of these troops, however, was met with heavy fire from field guns and howitzers, and no further progress was made. Further northwards, as soon as the infantry had cleared Abu Hamra, the advance was continued towards Qatia, where the enemy's rearguard was found firmly established east of the palm trees, with both flanks well protected. A strong attempt was made to eject him by dismounted action, but the attack failed to make progress, and darkness found our troops and the enemy's facing each other roughly on parallel lines. During the day the Royal Flying Corps reported that the retreat of the Turks was general throughout their depth, and our aeroplanes most effectively harassed his movements and threw his columns into confusion by well-directed bomb attacks.

On the morning of the 6th the enemy was found to have retired from Qatia, and, while the cavalry pressed on in pursuit, the infantry moved forward and occupied the line Er Rabah-Qatia-Bir El Mamluk. These Australian Light Horse regiments, which had borne the brunt of observing and harassing the enemy's advance, were given a day's rest in camp, while the remainder of the cavalry continued the advance. The enemy's rearguard was found to be occupying his previously prepared position extending across the road and telegraph line between Hod El Reshafat and Hod El Dhaba. Our attempts to turn his flanks by Hod En Negiliat on the north and Hod El Sagia on the south were frustrated by heavy artillery fire.

On the same morning the Camel Corps detachment of Smith's Mobile Column occupied Bir El Mageibra without opposition. Another body of mounted troops also moved to Mageibra in support at Bir El Jafeir. In the afternoon Major J. J. de Knoop, commanding the Camel Corps detachment of this column, reconnoitred towards Hod El Bayud, and reported that a force of the enemy was in occupation of Hod El Muhammam, five miles north-east of Mageibra. Orders for an attack next morning were issued by Colonel Smith.

On the 7th August the cavalry maintained their action with the enemy's rearguard, which had fallen back to the line of his first entrenched position running from Oghratina to Hod El Masia, with flanks thrown well out to the north and south. There was continuous fighting throughout the day, but the enemy were too strongly supported by artillery for the cavalry to drive him from his position. Meanwhile the Mobile Column, operating from Bir El Aweidiya, had fought a very successful action with the enemy force—consisting of 1,000 rifles, three machine guns and two 12-pounder guns—in the neighbourhood of Hod El Muhammam. The camel detachnfent and cavalry, the whole under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Grant, drove the enemy out of several successive positions, capturing 53 prisoners, and successfully withdrew at nightfall. This threat to his flanks was probably an important factor in determining the enemy to continue his retreat. I regret to say that Major de Knoop, who had handled the camel detachment throughout with great skill and judgment, was killed while directing operations.

On the 8th August the enemy was found to have abandoned Oghratina and, by the evening, to have taken up a position covering Bir el Abd, his advanced base. It was here that the enemy made his final stand to cover the evacuation of his camp and stores. Touch was now gained between the cavalry and Smith's Mobile Column, and was maintained from this time onwards.

On the 9th August the cavalry which had hitherto carried out the pursuit was reinforced. A strong effort was made to encircle both flanks of the enemy at Bir El Abd and cut off his further retreat. Strong opposition was, however, encountered on both flanks, and it was decided to deliver a dismounted attack with the object of driving out the enemy. Our field batteries got close enough to shell effectively .the convoys removing stores from the pile at Bir El Abd, but our artillery fire drew a heavy reply from the enemy's howitzers, which caused some casualties. The enemy, well supported by artillery, fought stubbornly. He made three counter-attacks, all of which were driven back with heavy loss by our rifle and machine-gun fire, and in the evening what appeared to be a general advance by fresh forces was made against our troops. This was also driven back with heavy loss, but the enemy was able to maintain his covering position. During the next two days our cavalry was unable to .do more than maintain continuous pressure, but the Mobile Column, which had occupied Bayud on the 9th, continued to menace the enemy wide on his left flank. On the 10th a strong reconnaissance was made against the enemy, who was in strength at Hod El Mushalfat, south-east of Bir El Abd. On the 11th an enemy force with two mountain guns approached Bayud. A sharp action, which commenced at 5.30 a.m., was fought, and in the course of it all the baggage camels and ammunition mules of the enemy detachment were destroyed. Towards the afternoon the enemy evacuated this position and retired on the main body of his rearguard. On the following day patrols from the neighbourhood of Bayud found the country to the east and north all clear.

Early on the morning of the 12th it was found that the enemy had retired from Bir El Abd, and, though there was a small encounter with his rear troops about Salmana, the general pursuit stopped at this point, the enemy retiring through Bir El Mazar to El Arish. The General Officer Commanding was ordered to hold the line Bir El Abd-Homossia with two brigades of cavalry, keeping touch with the Mobile Column, which remained at Mageibra. The infantry returned to the Mahemdia— Romani line.

6. The complete result of the operations in the Qatia district was the decisive defeat of an enemy force amounting in all to some 18,000, including 15,000 rifles. Some 4,000 prisoners, including 50 officers, were captured, and, from the number of enemy dead actually buried, it. is estimated that the total number of enemy casualties amounted to about 9,000. In addition, there were captured 1 Krupp 75 mm. mountain battery of four guns complete with all accessories and 400 rounds of ammunition.

9 German machine guns and mountings with specially constructed pack saddles for camel transport, 2,300 rifles, 1,000,000 rounds small arms ammunition, 100 horses and mules, 500 camels, and a large amount of miscellaneous stores and equipment. Two field hospitals, with most of their equipment, were also abandoned by the enemy in his retreat, and large quantities of stores were burnt by him at Bir El Abd to prevent their capture.

Lieutenant-General the Hon. H. A. Lawrence directed the operations throughout, and the warmest praise is due to him and the commanders, staffs and troops concerned in the operations. General Lawrence's staff deserve great credit for their efforts in working out the allotment of camel transport enabling our troops to conduct a vigorous pursuit. Throughout the whole month which elapsed between the enemy's first approach and his final disappearance Major-General H. G. Chauvel, C.B., C.M.G., proved himself a resolute and resourceful cavalry leader. The brunt of the fighting fell upon the Australian and New Zealand mounted troops, to which were attached batteries of R.H.A. I cannot speak too highly of the gallantry, steadfastness and untiring energy shown by these fine troops throughout the operations. The S. Mid. Mounted Brigade came into action successfully on 4th August, and subsequently took part in the cavalry pursuit. The Scottish troops, commanded by Major-General W. E. B. Smith, C.M.Q., not only showed great steadiness under heavy artillery fire, but were responsible for the assault which recaptured Wellington Ridge on 4th August, and for clearing Abu Hamra on the 5th. Of the E. Lanes, troops, commanded by Major-General Sir W. Douglas, K.C.M.G., C.B., only two battalions were in action on the 4th, but the force carried out a march under very trying conditions on the subsequent days. Detachments of the Bikanir Camel Corps were invaluable in reconnaissances and as escorts to small parties, besides bringing in much of the material captured.

Most excellent work was done by Lieutenant-Colonel C. L. Smith, V.C., Officer Commanding Camel Corps, and by all ranks composing the Mobile Column under his command. He executed the role ascribed to him with great energy, and carried out his instructions with the highest intelligence. The arrangements made for mobilising and maintaining his column reflect the greatest credit on Major-General A. G. Dallas, C.B., and his staff.

I cannot speak too highly of the work of the Royal Flying Corps during the whole period. Their work was extremely arduous and exhausting. The average total daily reconnaissances during the period amounted to 23 hours, and during the first five days of August to as much as 31 hours. Many pilots and observers were out two or three times a day for several consecutive days under very accurate anti-aircraft fire, and were frequently engaged in air combats with enemy machines of superior power. Special commendation is due to Lieutenant-Colonel P. B. Joubert, Officer Commanding Royal Flying Corps, and to Major H. Blackburn, Royal Flying Corps, who commanded the detachment at Kantara.

I wish also to bring to notice the good work done by H.M. Monitors, under the command of Lieutenant-Commander A. O. St. John, R.N., and Commander E. Robinson, V.C., R.N., respectively. The shooting of these ships was consistently good, and they were very successful in reducing the fire of the enemy's heavy howitzers on the 4th August.

7. With the exception of the operations described in the preceding paragraph, there is little to record beyond reconnaissances and patrols for the remainder of the period under review.

On 16th and 17th September a mounted force of Australian Light Horse, Imperial Camel Corps, R.H.A. Batteries and a Mountain Battery, under the command of Major-General Chauvel, carried out a successful reconnaissance in force against the enemy's camp at Bir El Mazar. At dawn, on the 17th, the camp was attacked from the west and from the south and south-east. On the west our troops occupied a ridge about 800 yards from the enemy's second Bine trenches; several small posts were rushed and taken. Our batteries came into action in a favourable position, partially enfilading some enemy trenches, which were seen to be occupied in strength, and inflicted considerable loss. The enemy replied actively with shell fire and heavy rifle fire. On the south and south-east our troops drew the enemy's fire on a front of two miles, and in many instances occupied the enemy's original first line trenches. My instructions were that a general action against the enemy in entrenched positions was to be avoided, and the column, having successfully carried out its mission, withdrew without any attempt on the part of the enemy to molest it. The Royal Flying Corps co-operated effectively throughout the operation, and the gallant action of the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service off El Arish diverted the attention of the enemy's aircraft from our troops at Bir El Mazar. Our casualties were slight, and our captures included one officer and thirteen men of the enemy's camel corps, besides a number of camels.

The success of this operation, apart from the casualties inflicted, which were heavy, lay in the fact that it gave the enemy a new and unexpected proof of our extended radius of action, and induced him, in the course of the next few days, to evacuate his camp at Bir El Mazar and withdraw the troops to camps near El Arish.

During the month of September various small reconnaissances were made. The most important of these was carried out against Bir El Tawal (about 30 miles west of El Kubri) by a column under Brigadier-General A. Mudge, between the 14th and 21st September. The approach march was excellently carried out over very broken and intricate country. The enemy's position was reached on the 17th, and, after a preliminary reconnaissance on that day, an attack was made early the next morning. The infantry advanced with great dash, and almost immediately the enemy took to flight, but pursuit was impossible, owing to the nature of the ground. An inspection of the enemy's camp showed that he had been completely taken by surprise, and had left behind all his stores and personal effects, which were captured. After the wells had been emptied, and such stores as could not be brought away had been destroyed, our troops withdrew, reaching Kubri railhead on 21st September. Our total casualties were three other ranks killed and two other ranks wounded.

On the western front during the months of August and September there has been little of note, to report. The railway towards the Baharia Oasis has been pushed on, and the railhead of the Kharga railway is now ten miles beyond Kharga Station. Patrolling has been most active in all sections of the line. On 31st August a patrol of eight motor-cars captured an enemy camel convoy twenty miles north-west of Jaghbub. The escort of thirty Armed men surrendered without resistance, the loads and saddles of the camels were burnt, and most of the camels destroyed. In the Saharia Section a patrol of two officers and three men, Imperial Camel Corps, came in contact with a small body of between fifteen and twenty enemy near the point where the "Rubi" road from Samalut descends the escarpment of the Baharia Oasis. The two officers became detached from the men, who made their way back to the post covering the railhead, but I much, regret that subsequent search has failed to discover the missing officers. In the Wadi Natrun Section “A” motor-car patrol on 21st September arrested a small convoy under a Tripolitan officer of the Senussi Force, which was bringing mails and a quantity of bombs, gelignite and automatic pistols from Baharia to Amria (12 miles west of Alexandria on the coast).

Throughout the period under review the command of the Delta District and the Lines of Communication Defences has been held by Major-General W. A. Watson, C.B., C.I.E., and the duties of that command, though happily involving no active operations, have been carried out to my satisfaction. Great activity and thoroughness has been shown in carrying out my instructions to establish a line of posts along the western edge of the canal zone to prevent the entrance of undesirable persons. The patrolling duties involved have been entrusted to two Australian squadrons, who have displayed the greatest zeal, tact and resource in bringing the new orders and restrictions into force. The results of this measure have been excellent, and the Western Canal Zone can now be said to be free from the presence of all unauthorised persons.

8. It gives me the greatest pleasure to bring to notice the services rendered by General Sir F. R. Wingate, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G., D.S.O., and the Egyptian Army, since the beginning of the war, to the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, and to express my gratefulness for the assistance which has at all times been so willingly given. Fifty-eight officers and twelve Sudan Government officials served—most of them for short periods equivalent to the amount of leave to which in normal circumstances they would have been entitled—with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force; of these, six officers were either killed or died of wounds, and eleven were wounded. Sixty officers and twenty-seven Sudan Government officials were lent at various times for service with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

Personnel of the Egyptian Army has been employed at different times as guards for railway bridges and to garrison various important points in the interior. The Egyptian Army also supplied guns and gunners for two armoured trains for use with the defences of Egypt. A Camel Maxim Section and an armed detachment of the Military Works Department were attached to the Bikanir Camel Corps, and took part in the operations against the Senussi (in which operations No. 1 Squadron Egyptian Cavalry was also employed) and in the attack on the Suez Canal in April, 1915. Two companies of the 2nd (Egyptian) Battalion garrisoned there in January, 1915, and took part in the subsequent operations in that district. The garrison of Abu Zeneima was also supplied for some months by troops of the Egyptian Army. In the course of 1915, 2,230 Egyptian reservists, who had been called up, were employed on works connected with the Canal defences; a number of Egyptian officers from pension and unemployed lists volunteered for service with these reservists and gave valuable assistance. A works battalion of six companies was formed in May, 1915, for service at the Dardanelles, the battalion and the companies being, commanded by British officers in the employ of the Egyptian Army. This unit did excellent work, under perpetual shell-fire, on the Peninsula during the four months of its employment.

Besides this assistance in the matter of personnel the Egyptian Army has most liberally placed at the disposal of the Mediterranean and Egyptian Expeditionary Forces accommodation, war material and transport camels.

I would especially mention the loan of the Egyptian Army Hospital at Cairo, complete with equipment, to the New Zealand Division; the purchase in the Sudan of over 14,000 riding and baggage camels, the collection, veterinary examination, and dispatch of which threw a large amount of additional work upon the province staffs; the supply of 174,000 grenades for the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force; the loan of tugs and steel plates for the Canal defences; and the manufacture and repair, in the Stores Department, of a large number of articles of equipment and clothing. For these, and all other services rendered in addition to their normal duties, the Egyptian Army and the Sudan Administration deserve the most cordial thanks.

I also wish to express my extreme gratefulness to Field Marshal Rt. Hon. Lord Methuen, G.C.B., G.C.V.O., C.M.G., Governor and Commander-in-Chief, Malta, and to all his staff, for the labours which they have undertaken in connection with hospital work for the benefit of the Mediterranean and Egyptian Expeditionary Forces.

The expansion, reduction and re-expansion of accommodation has necessitated very hard work on the part of the Engineer, Barracks, Ordnance, Transport and Supply Services, as well as oh the part of the Medical Department. I wish to call attention to the admirable work that has been performed by the Nursing Services in the hospitals in Egypt. Not only have they had to deal with a very large number of wounded and sick from Gallipoli, Salonica and Egypt itself, but also from other theatres of war. The devotion to duty, zeal .and skill of the Nursing Services, both British, Australian and New Zealand, and of the voluntary helpers has been beyond praise, and I have great pleasure in bringing to your notice in a subsequent despatch the names of a number of those ladies for specially distinguished service.

The distribution by the Army Postal Service of letters and parcels over the extended desert fronts has been fraught with difficulties. The successful manner in which these have been overcome has greatly contributed to the comfort and health of the troops under my command. In this connection I wish to acknowledge the assistance I have received from the Egyptian Postal Service, under the able direction of N. T. Borton Pasha, Postmaster-General.

The complete failure of the enemy's operations in August was largely due to the manner in which the plans for defence were prepared and the distribution of the troops arranged, in the accomplishment of this the Chief of my General Staff, Major-General A. L. Lynden-Bell, C.B., C.M.G., rendered me able and devoted service. His work has been of an onerous nature and he has discharged it with energy, skill and determination.

My thanks are also due to Lieutenant-General E. A. Altham, K.C.B., C.M.G., for the manner in which he has discharged his responsible duties as Inspector-General of Communications.

I will submit in a separate Despatch the names of those officers and men who have rendered distinguished service during the period under review and whose services I desire to commend.

I have the honour to be, Sir, Your most obedient Servant,

A. J. MURRAY, General, Commander-in-Chief, Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

 

 

Previous: General Murray's Despatches, Part 1

Next: General Murray's Despatches, Part 3

 

Further Reading:

Desert Mounted Corps

The Desert Mounted Corps, Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Desert Column (DC), General Murray's Despatches, Part 2

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EAST
Updated: Friday, 21 January 2011 7:11 AM EAST

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