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Wednesday, 26 March 2008
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account
Topic: AIF - DMC - British

The First Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917

Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account


Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account.

 

The following is a transcription of the Account from the War Diary of the Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division detailing its role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.

 

Extracts from War Diary of Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division
Brigade General Commander, Brigadier General JH du B Travers, CB.


25 March 1917

1100 Brigade General Commander with other Brigade Commanders, Commander Royal Artillery and Commander Royal Engineers of 53rd Division met the General Officer Commanding, 53rd Division at El Breij. General Officer Commanding, 53rd Division stated it was his intention to attack and capture Gaza tomorrow and explained his plan of attack.

A personal reconnaissance of the Wadi Ghuzze with a view to crossing in the neighbourhood of El Breij was carried out.

1230 Brigade General Commander met his Commanding Officers at El Breij and explained the plan of attack to them.

53rd Divisional Operation Order No. 26 received for move of the Division to Deir el Belah at 1600 today.

1600 Brigade moved to Deir el Belah reaching its bivouac position about ½ mile east of Hill 130 at 1800.


26 March 1917

0130 In accordance with Divisional Operation Order No. 27 the Brigade commenced to move out of bivouac. The move was immediately checked owing to the 160th Infantry Brigade crossing the line of march in front 159th Infantry Brigade starting point. Owing to this check the Brigade was not clear of its Starting Point until 0246. The Brigade followed the 158th Infantry Brigade to the Wadi Ghuzze being guided there by Lieutenant Davies 430th Field Company Royal Engineers.

0540 Brigade Headquarters established in the Wadi Ghuzze at "B" Crossing and communications opened with 53rd Division and 158th Infantry Brigade on telephone by tapping in to 158th Infantry Brigade line. Brigadier General immediately got into touch with Division and reported arrival at the crossing. He asked for instructions, which were that the Brigade was to stay in the same position until they received orders to move. At this time a thick mist prevailed which prevented observation by either side.

0542 Colonel Pearson Commanding 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery detailed to support the 158th Infantry Brigade, informed the Brigade General Officer 159th Infantry Brigade that he had received orders not to cross the Wadi till the fog lifted.

0620 Information received from Brigadier General Mott 158th Infantry Brigade that he had reached El Burjabiya unopposed. At the same time information was received that the 160th Infantry Brigade had reached El Sire also unopposed.

0640 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery crossed the Wadi crossing "B" the fog being still thick.

0804 The fog lifted but no orders received to move the Brigade.

0825 Message (GT 856) received 53rd Division that Divisional Headquarters moving forward to Burjabiya. Brigadier General immediately 'phoned to know if the Brigade was to move forward. Received answer - "No orders to move".

0930 Message (G.501) received from 53rd Division that the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division was then at MANSURA with Brigade General Commander 158th Infantry Brigade. Brigadier General immediately phoned to Headquarters 53rd Division for orders to move his Brigade forward.

0934 Message (G. 502) received from 53rd Division to move forward to Mansura by South of ridge in support of 158th Infantry Brigade and ordering Brigade General Commander 159th Infantry Brigade. to proceed at once to Headquarters 158th Infantry Brigade to meet General Officer Commanding 53rd Division.

0936 General Officer Commanding handed Brigade over to Lieutenant Colonel Kinsman 1/4th Welsh Regiment, with Instructions to bring Brigade forward as quickly as possible. Brigade General Commander and Brigade Major then proceeded to Mansura arriving there at 1025.

1025 Conference between General Officer Commanding 53rd Division and Brigade General Commanders 158th and 159th Infantry Brigades at Mansura. At this conference the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division explained his plan of attack - 160th Infantry Brigade was to attack the position known as the "Labyrinth" along the Sire Ridge.

158th and 159th Infantry Brigades were to attack the Ali Muntar position from a south west direction. No actual dividing line was given for the two latter with the exception that the 158th Infantry Brigade was to attack on the left and the 159th Infantry Brigade was on the right. The Brigade General Commander 159th Infantry Brigade explained to the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division that his men could not be up for at least 1½ hours making it about 1200 at the earliest. It was now 1100 and it was arranged that the attack was to start in 2 hours time. The Brigade General Commander 159th Infantry Brigade and the Brigade Major then left the Divisional General and went to the position whence the Brigade had to attack, to reconnoitre the route and await the arrival of the Brigade. 53rd Divisional Operations Order No. 28 received.

2210 telegram (G. 25) received tram 53rd Division for troops to move forward to the attack,

As 159th Infantry Brigade had not yet arrived it was unable to conform to this order but the 158th Infantry Brigade deployed, for the attack.

1230 The 159th Infantry Brigade began to arrive after their 4 miles march. The men had been as hurriedly pushed forward as possible during this march.

1240 3 Battalions - 1/4th Cheshire, 1/4th Welch and 1/5th Welch Regiments (1/7th Cheshire Regiment being in Divisional Reserve) were pushed in at once on the right of the 158th Infantry Brigade against an objective which had been mutually arranged between Brigadier General Commanding 158th Infantry Brigade and 159th Infantry Brigade, without waiting for a halt (vide sketch). This was rendered absolutely necessary if support was to be given to the 158th Infantry Brigade and to prevent their right flank being exposed to enfilade by the enemy and also as the Brigadier General Commanding 159th Infantry Brigade considered it would be impossible for the 158th Infantry Brigade to capture the position unaided, The disposition of the 3 Battalions sent in to the attack was as follows: 1/5th Welsh Regiment on the left joining with right flank of 158th Infantry Brigade. 1/4th Cheshire Regiment on the right with 1/4th Welsh Regiment in reserve. A section of Machine Guns was attached to both the 1/5th Welsh Regiment and the 1/4th Cheshire Regiment. The 158th Infantry Brigade was at this time some 1000 yards in front. The 159th Infantry Brigade had to push to the attack from the direction of their march, this necessitated (as the attack had to be delivered at right angles to the line of march) a right angle wheel after the extensions had been made. The 1/5th Welsh Regiment was pushed out first and had to cross the line of fire diagonally to get into its place. The 1/4th Cheshire Regiment acted similarly in their turn, extending the line further to the right. This difficult operation was performed most efficiently and satisfactorily and the Brigade pushed forward on the same alignment as the 158th Infantry Brigade. The objective of the Brigade was CLAY HILL and ridge running between Clay HILL and Ali Muntar (vide sketch). The right of the 1/4th Cheshire Regiment extended over the GAZA - Beersheba Road.

1315 - 1330 The two Brigades were now up in line and Brigadier General Commanding 158th and 159th Infantry Brigade after consultation together formed the following schemes to overcome the enemy's resistance which was now seen to be very serious and likely to become critical if prompt measures were not at once taken. Accordingly the following arrangements were made. To push the right flank which was seen to offer the least resistance and thence to push along the ridge to Ali el Muntar. It was hoped by these dispositions to force the enemy out of his trenches and to compel his retirement, (A Section of Machine Guns was despatched to assist the right flank with overhead fire). The want of artillery support was now beginning to be seriously felt., applications were made to Divisional Headquarters for this support from the Artillery at Mansura when the Batteries had been placed was not altogether sufficient. The Brigade attack accordingly suffered by reason of there being no artillery Forward Observation Officers.

(It must be remembered, that our possession were not there was the greatest difficulty in explaining exactly where Artillery support was required.) Although the main thrust of the 159th Infantry Brigade was directed against Clay Hill, and some distance to the left of it, it was seen that the severity of fire from the Cactus hedge which was lying between the 2 hills (see sketch) was s1owly drawing the troops to the left. The 1/4th Welsh Regiment was now put in to fill the gap which was being created between the 1/5th Welsh Regiment and 1/4th Cheshire Regiment with the exception of one platoon kept for the purpose of carrying up ammunition.

1345 It was now reported to 53rd Division (SN 6) that all Reserves were in. The battle was now being fought out in grim earnest. The two Brigades were of necessity mixed where they had been drawn together to overcome the severe fire. The positions taken up by the enemy did not run in one continuous straight line but was much indented, consequently fire was being poured on our attacking lines from sometimes 3 different directions, causing them to diverge in this and that direction and to face the fire in order to overcome it. This of course added to the mix up of units although the direction of the attack was well maintained.

1360 Telegram (G. 30) from 53rd Division reporting Gaza cut off by cavalry from the North.

1424 Telegram (G. 33) from 53 Division that the Mounted Division had been ordered to attack GAZA from north and south east.

1500 About this time constant applications were being made for Artillery support and it was again clearly seen that there was necessity for artillery support from our right rear, for it was quite impossible for the Artillery, no matter how efficiently they performed their work, to properly support this Brigade from Mansura. Had Artillery been available at this Juncture it could here been used for cutting Cactus hedges before troops got up and thus have enabled them to sweep right on. The enemy had specifically occupied these Cactus hedges and were firing through them.

1530 General Officer Commanding 53rd Division placed at the disposal of Brigade Commanding Officer 159 Infantry Brigade the 1/7th Cheshire Regiment which up to then had been Divisional Reserve. This Battalion arrived at a critical time and was pushed in at once behind the 1/5th Welsh Regiment where the opposition was coming from.

1652 It was with much satisfaction a message (BXT 711) was received from 53rd Division that the 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery had been ordered into action to support right flank of the attack and soon after, the Officer Commanding 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery reported himself at Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade and was immediately pointed out where we required Artillery support. Meantime the 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery had got into position about 800 yards, south of first D in Mukadderne.

1614 Fire was opened by 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery and was immediately successful, the support fire of this Brigade was very intelligently given, it immediately silenced the enemy machine guns on Clay Hill and obtained as we afterwards ascertained, a direct hit on one of their Machine Guns. Immediately after this the Infantry poured up the hill the guns searching the slopes as they advanced and in approximately half an hour after the opening of the guns the hill was in our possession. It was now sought to turn the 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery against the other portions of the line where it was badly needed, but the Infantry had now advanced so close that this was rendered impossible except on the Mosque itself and the trenches which could be plainly seen lying below it. Had this Brigade arrived an hour before it is not too muck to say that the two Brigades attacking the position would have been saved many casualties. The 1/7th Cheshire Regiment now push I company right up without halting on firing a single shot. This Company reached as far as the north east edge of the Ali Muntar Hill and together with portions of the 1/4th and 1/5th Welsh Regiments and 158th Infantry Brigade the outlying portions of the Citadel were stormed and taken at 16.32. The remaining Companies were distributed to the right and eventually in conjunction with portions of the 1/4th and 1/5th Welsh Regiments took up a position overlooking the Mohammedan Cemetery.

From this position the troops were enabled to fire an the enemy who were retreating in small bodies in a north easterly direction towards the town considerable losses being inflicted on them. Clay Hill was simultaneously stormed by a Company of the 1/4th Welsh Regiment from the south, and the 1/4th Cheshire Regiment, from the south east and the hill and surrounding gardens passed into our possession about 1645. Portions of this brigade were now holding ground between Ali el Muntar Mosque and Clay Hill inclusive, which they effectively dominated with their fire. Small bodies of Turks were rounded up in donga and dugouts and were disarmed and sent to the rear under small escorts. Steps were immediately taken to consolidate this position, the line facing north and north east and all roads were picquetted. In addition to the troops of the 1/4th Welsh Regiment and 1/4th Cheshire Regiment 2 Sections of 159th Machine Gun Company had reached ., Clay Hill and Lieutenant Colonel Kinsman. 1/4th Welsh Regiment who had taken command felt quite sure of his position for the night. About this time (1630) Lieutenant CH Spence, 159th Machine Gun Company, spotted and engaged at 1,000 yards (in the direction of GAZA a Battery of Hostile Artillery and succeeded in silencing same. The position of the troops was now as follows: 1/4th Cheshire Regiment with one section of Machine Guns had formed up on Clay Hill, facing north west and north east and roads were picquetted. Portions of 1/4th Welsh Regiment and 1/5th Welsh Regiment were holding Cactus hedges between Clay Hill and Ali Muntar Hill. There were 2 sections along this ridge with Headquarters, Machine Gun Company. Message from Commanding Officer 1/7th Cheshire Regiment had not at this time reached us but it was afterwards ascertained that portions of the 1/7th Cheshire Regiment were holding the outskirts of the citadel some were with the 1/4th and 1/5th Welsh Regiments overlooking the Mohammedan Cemetery whilst Captain Irwin and 200 Other Ranks were holding Cactus hedge running south west of Ali el Muntar. This Information was received at Headquarters about 1815 and all available information was wired at once to 53rd Division (BM 23). Communication from Brigade Headquarters and 1/4th Cheshire Regiment and detachment of 1/7th Cheshire Regiment was good up to about 1800 after which for some reason wire failed. Joint line used by 1/4th Welsh Regiment and 1/5th Welsh Regiment was faulty.

1800 Word was received by Brigade General Commander that the Brigade might have to withdraw from the position as soon as it was dark. It was explained that men would be very disappointed and that if possible it would be advisable to let them hold on to their gains. Other telephone conversations followed but no word was sent to Battalions of any likelihood of then having to retire until 2130 when definite orders were renewed that the Brigade had to withdraw and go into bivouac at a point 200x south of "U" in Mansura. Confirmed by telegram GT 862 from 53rd Division. On receipt of instructions to withdraw Captain Irwin and 200 men of 1/7th Cheshire Regiment who had been occupying Cactus hedge running south east from Ali el Muntar were withdrawn to provide local reserve for Brigade Headquarters from north to north west. As the telephone communication was very imperfect owing to consolidation and had not been readjusted all available Staff Officers were sent forward to withdraw the troops to Brigade Headquarters. As the line was much advanced and considerably extended and the night at this time was very dark the process of communicating with Commanders and Commanders with their Subordinates was a difficult one and it was not until 2400 that the process of withdrawal was a commenced. Withdrawal took place in the following order commencing from the right 1/4th Cheshire Regiment and 1/4th wad 1/5th Welsh Regiments - 1/4 th Welsh and 1/7th Cheshire Regiments. Owing to Machine Guns, Lewis Guns, Small Arms Ammunition and several wounded men having to be manhandled, the march was very slow and troops only reached Brigade Headquarters at 0330 on morning of 27th.


27 March 1917

0430 The Brigade moved off at once reaching bivouac area at 0430. Bearer Section 1/2nd Welsh Field Ambulance was situated about 200 yards south west of Brigade Headquarters.

0800 The Brigade supplied 300 men to carry Wounded from Bearer Section to Wadi Ghuzze. Sandcarts and camel accommodation being insufficient. The Brigade (less 1/4th Cheshire Regiment detached to provide escort to guns) remained in reserve and was subjected to heavy shell fire.

1107 Telegram (G.52) 53rd Division was to effect that owing to the w1thdrawal of our troops from Ali Muntar our left would be withdrawn to a point on the main El Sire - Ali Muntar Ridge to be selected by General Brigade Commanders 158th and 161st Infantry Brigades. The 158th Infantry Brigade to hold from the point of function of 161st Infantry Brigade to western edge of Mansura the 159th Infantry Brigade (less 1 Battalion in Divisional Reserve) to hold from this point to left of l63rd Infantry Brigade. This line to be the line of resistance. After discussion With General Ward and General Mott, the Brigade moved at once (less 1/5th Welsh Regiment in Divisional Reserve) to new position and were disposed as follows: 1/7th Cheshire Regiment and 1 Section 159th Machine Gun Company on the right, 1/4th Welsh Regiment, and 1 Section 159th Machine Gun Company, on the Left. 1/4th Cheshire Regiment and 159th Machine Gun Company (less 2 sections) Brigade reserve. Brigade Headquarters at about second "E" of Tel el Ahmar.

The front line proceeded to dig themselves in.

1135 Message (G. 55) received from 53rd Division that Headquarters 53rd Division were moving to Burjabiya.

1548 Telegram (G.55) received from 53rd Division notifying that special bombardment of Ali Muntar would take place by 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery at 1845 to enable part of 161st Infantry Brigade to withdraw. This was communicated to 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and acknowledged by their TP 79.

1600 At about 1600 Bearer Section 1/2 Welsh Fusilier Ambulance moved to Wadi Ghuzze with all wounded not previously evacuated.

Brigadier General Mott and Colonel Pearson Royal Field Artillery conferred with Brigade General Commander and discussed methods of co-operation.

1730 Combined 52nd and 54th Divisional Orders (G. 56) received for withdrawal across Wadi Ghuzze. Time for withdrawal of Field Artillery Brigades, Section 60 Pounders Battery and Field Companies Royal Engineers and 159th Infantry Brigade was 2100.

Remainder of both Divisions to commence retirement simultaneously at 2200. 158th and 163rd Infantry Brigades to cover retirement, 159th Infantry Brigade to proceed to high ground at Tel el Shabani and take up an outpost line there. Conference of Commanding Officers called at once, orders explained and Major Heath 27th Cheshire Regiment understudy Brigade Major ordered to reconnoitre route.

2030 The Brigade was gradually withdrawn and assembled at El Burjabye. Orders were then received by phone from General Service Officer No.1, 53rd Division to move at once and Brigade moved off. Route followed (approximately) Burjabiya = Southern slope of Burjabiya Ridge to 1st "A" of El Adar - south to Wadi el Nukhabir - Wadi Ghuzze at Sheikh Nebhan = "B" crossing at El Breij - Sheikh Rashid - El Shabani.

28 March 1917

Outpost line was taken up as follows:

Front Line.
1/4th Cheshire Regiment and 1 Section 159th Machine Gun Company on the right.
1/7th Cheshire Regiment and 1 Section 159th Machine Gun Company on the left.

Reserve at Brigade Headquarters Sheikh Rashid
1/4th Welsh Regiment
1/5th Welsh Regiment
159th Machine Gun Company (less 2 Sections)

The march from the time the Brigade reached Wadi Nukhabir was very heavy and trying to the men being soft sand as far as El Breij. Owing to casualties to animals and Pack saddlery many Machine Guns, Lewis Guns and material for same had to be manhandled for the whole distance 8 to 9 Miles. 1/5th Welsh Regiment and particularly good work in this march having lost very heavily in men and in spite of want of sleep (this was the third night in succession the men had had no sleep) and almost continuous marching and fighting there was not the slightest sign of demoralisation. Brigade took over left section of outpost (distribution as above) line extending from west Khan Yunis - Gaza Road inclusive to sea. 160th Infantry Brigade on the right and 158th Infantry Brigade in reserve. Men rested and bathed during the day.

1730 Work commenced on Outpost line.

 

War Diaries

All War Diaries cited on this site should be read in conjunction with the Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy which may be accessed at:

Australian Light Horse Studies Centre, AIF War Diaries of the Great War, Site Transcription Policy 

 

 

Further Reading:

53rd (Welsh) Division Order of Battle

The British Army

British Forces, EEF, Roll of Honour

The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917

The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Headquarters 159th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 23 February 2011 9:20 AM EAST

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