Topic: BatzP - 1st Gaza
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
Falls Account Part 8
Falls Account, Sketch Map 15.
The following is an extract of the Falls Account from the the Official British War History volumes on Egypt written by Falls, C.; and, MacMunn, G., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1928), pp. 279 - 325 detailing the British role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
Chapter XVII The First Battle of Gaza (Continued).
The First Battle of Gaza.
The Decision to Withdraw the Mounted Troops.
As the day wore on, Generals Dobell and Chetwode frequently conferred at In Seirat. It appeared to them that the delays, first that caused by the fog, secondly that owing to the progress of the 53rd Division having been slower than had been anticipated, must result in involving them in a fight with Turkish reinforcements long before the position was captured. It was, in fact, a matter of surprise to them that there was no news of serious pressure from the east until comparatively late in the afternoon, but the stubborn defence of Ali Muntar and Green Hill deprived the British of what advantage they might otherwise have gained from the tardiness of the Turkish relieving columns. Feeling certain that these columns would appear sooner or later, General Dobell, after consultation with General Chetwode, decided that unless Gaza was captured by nightfall the fight must be broken off and the mounted troops withdrawn. The state of the horses was constantly in their minds. These had been watered before midnight on the 25th, had for the most part been without water all day and would probably get little, unless Gaza was taken, until withdrawn to the Wadi Ghazze. As we have seen, some pools had been found. The information on this subject received by Desert Column was the following. At 10.25 a.m. General Hodgson had telegraphed that there was a small quantity of water near Kh. er Reseim and that he had watered the horses of one of his brigades. In the same telegram he had given the less promising news that, according to the statement of a deserter, all the wells but three in Gaza had been blown up. At 12.44 p.m. General Chauvel had telegraphed that there were a few small pools in the Wadi el Halib (by which was probably meant its tributary, the Wadi el Humra).
By 4 p.m., as has been recorded, just as General Chauvel began his attack on Gaza, the long expected advance of the Turks made itself felt. From the air (General Dobell had at his disposal 5 aeroplanes for general reconnaissance, 6 for artillery co-operation, and 6 for patrol duties. There was also always one machine at the disposal of Desert Column.) there were no reports of the enemy being in strength until after the withdrawal of the mounted troops had been ordered, so that this order was based on reports from Generals Chauvel and Hodgson, together with the fact that the 53rd Division had not yet captured its objectives.
All the messages on this subject received by the Desert Column, prior to its order to the mounted troops to withdraw, are here given, so that the precise information on which Generals Dobell and Chetwode acted shall be apparent.
Anzac Mounted Division report verbally patrol near Deir Sneid reports 3 infantry columns advancing on Gaza from Deir Sneid, estimated strength about 300.4 p.m.
Aeroplane reports at 3.45. Saw about 200 cavalry about 5 miles S. of Gaza on Hureira road halted. One battalion of infantry halted 2 miles W. of Beersheba. Ends.
G. R. 142. 26th.
Have just had report from Deir Sneid that three enemy columns are moving towards us from that direction. Body of 300 infantry are reported to have moved into sandhills W. of Deir Sneid. Have sent one squadron 22nd Brigade to oppose them and am ordering up one Brigade from Imperial Mounted Division. Can aeroplane reconnaissance be sent to verify this?
4 p.m. Anzac Mounted Division.
Desert Column. 26th.
3,000 infantry, 2 squadrons cavalry, advancing from Huj in south-westerly direction.
Moundiv. [Imp. Mtd. Divn.].
There is also the following entry in the War Diary of the rear headquarters Eastern Force (at Rafah):-R.F.C. reported at 6 p.m. that a column of enemy troops were marching in fours towards Gaza, and were 1½ miles S.W. of Huj. The column's length was 1½ miles, including transport. Screen of infantry in front of column and flank guards on both flanks.
This report was, of course, telephoned to General Dobell, but cannot have influenced General Chetwode when, ten minutes later, he issued orders to General Chauvel to retire across the Wadi Ghazze. Its tenor was not, in any case, very different from General Hodgson's report of 4.50 p.m.
There is no record of any other message, but General Chauvel conversed on the telephone from time to time with General Chetwode.
On the strength of these reports, General Dobell, who had been from the first apprehensive of a strong counter-attack against the right rear of the force, warned the 54th Division to be prepared to move 2 miles westward to the Buriabye ridge, with its left on a point one mile north of Mansura, where it would be in touch with the 53rd Division. Soon afterwards, at 5.38 p.m., he ordered this movement to take place. The headquarters of the Desert Column was informed of the despatch of these messages, but they were communicated to the 53rd Division either by Desert Column or by the 54th Division.
At this date sunset is almost exactly at 6 p.m. (Cairo and darkness falls swiftly at this latitude. By that hour no news of the fall of Ali Muntar had been received by Desert Column, and indeed, though a lodgement in the Turkish trenches had been effected long before, it was not, as we have seen, till 6.30 that the whole position was captured. General Chetwode came to the conclusion that the sands had run out, that he could no longer leave the mounted troops with half their numbers involved in fighting amidst the gardens of Gaza, while the Turks attacked the other half from north and east. At 6.10 p.m., with the approval of General Dobell, he reluctantly issued a telegraphic order to General Chauvel that the mounted troops should break off the action and retire across the Wadi Ghazze. (Australian Official History, p. 282, states that General Chauvel made a “strong protest" on receipt of these orders. No written protest is on record, and General Chetwode states that none was made to him verbally, by telephone, or messenger.) He subsequently placed the Camel Brigade under the orders of General Chauvel to assist in covering his retirement, and instructed him by telegram that when the withdrawal was complete the brigade should take up a line from the wadi to the right flank of the 54th Division in the new position on the Burjabye Ridge to which it had been directed.
Just as the order for General Chauvel's withdrawal was being despatched, a report came in from General Dallas that a redoubt north-east of Ali Muntar had been captured and that the enemy was retiring stubbornly. This information did not seem to General Chetwode to warrant any change in his orders. The extrication of the mounted troops and the watering of their horses appeared to him to be of the first importance. It was not until some time later that he heard of the retreat of the enemy from the whole ridge.
Falls Account Line of March Picture.