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Wednesday, 26 March 2008
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Egyptian Expeditionary Force Chetwode Letter 2 March 1917
Topic: AIF - DMC - British

The First Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917

Egyptian Expeditionary Force Chetwode Letter 2 March 1917

 

Chetwode Letter 2 March 1917.

 

The following is a transcription of the Chetwode Letter of 2 March 1917 from the War Diary of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force detailing the discussion formulating the battle plan for the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.


Headquarters,
Desert Column
2nd March 1917

My dear Dobell,

The presence of "(indecipherable) Maximus" has rather checked serious business, and I have had no time to talk to you at all. His visit, however, seemed to have passed off very well.

I was very annoyed at my "bete noir" - Tyrrell - suddenly producing that letter from Walter Campbell and getting the C.I.G.S. (Chief of Imperial General Staff) to try and make me read it at the last moment at the Chief's saloon. That is just what he always does - he makes no difficulties here, and then goes and weeps to General Headquarters and gets what has been settled altered again. I thought he had quite settled with you that all Reservists and coolies should go back behind the outpost line each night, etc., and then he comes up yesterday and says he can't do it without 40 wagons a day, etc.

What I want clearly understood is that no one wants the rail on quicker that I do, or will run more risks in getting it on, but I must be absolutely free handed here to send construction coolies back behind our lines when and where I consider necessary, It Is impossible to communicate such details daily to you, and the procedure may, and probably will alter almost daily.

I have been out all day with Chauvel and Dallas, beyond Rafa, and between here and there, and we have practically settled as follows.

We give no protection to construction as far as the 184 El Rasum line on which you rode yesterday with the Chief, and coolies must come back every night behind our line running north and south through the "U" of SULTANI. On rail reaching there (Rasum) we lay down water troughs at Rasum and push out one Infantry Division, less one Brigade, to what we call the "fork" position, just east of the fork in the main Rafa Road, i.e., one mile east of the "I" in Sultani, watering them at Rasum, and keeping the remaining Brigade of the Division at the troughs at Rasum. One cavalry Brigade or possibly only a Regiment on the Beach at WH just north of Pt, 160.

52nd Division complete to Sheikh Zowaiid.

The next step will be a Division less one Brigade to El Magruntein - remaining brigade to "Fork" Position, water to Fork position.

While at Magruntein railhead will push on to near Rafa and establish its water and supply sidings, covered as soon as the water troughs are down by Cavalry east of Rafa, as well as the Infantry at Magruntein.

As soon an there is water laid down for two infantry Divisions at Rafa, the whole of the 53rd will concentrate at Magruntein and the same day the whole of the 52nd in the valley just north of it. Then on the following morning early the two Divisions covered by Cavalry will march straight to their chosen positions covering Rafa, and dig in and wire hard, so that the position is defendable by evening. The Cavalry moving to Bir el Shunnar and Bir el Aheimer. This is all being closely reconnoitred and each company will move to its own ground and commence digging in.

It is essential to move both Divisions the same day as the position covering Rafa is very extensive, (from Point. 280 north east of Rafa to Shokh el Sufi, or not far off it). It is however a magnificent one with a glacis of 2000 yards in many places.

The above will necessitate, if you agree, your pushing on the 54th to Zowaiid and Burj, to relieve the 52nd on the day they move forward.

The next step will be the Occupation of Khan Yunis and the linking up of that with the entrenched camp of Rafa, behind which we must make most of our preparations and accumulate supplies and war material for our attack.

I do not propose asking you for more mounted troops (unless the situation alters), before we occupy Rafa for good but I think the two Brigades, 2nd Cavalry Division, should be moved to Zowaiid with the 54th Division. After that we may want the Camels to watch the southern waterless flank, and the more mounted men we have and can supply the better.

I should very much like you and Dawnay to come up in a few drays and look at the proposed positions, especially that covering Rafa, an it is a vital one, you can form no conception of what the ground is like from what you saw when here - it is absolutely open, not a bush on it. We can motor you out to Rafa and have horses there for you, and put you up here if you want to spend the night. I think it is worth your while getting a good idea of the country, as it is very peculiar. You can see a good bit of the enemy lines from Towaiil el Emir, and it looks perfectly bludsome as an approach, but that is never so bad as it seems from a distance.

We shall also have to cover any water or Decauville towards 240, east of Karm Ibn Musleh, but I have not yet seen that. It looks difficult from a distance.

I hope when the 54th follow up they will continue water development, especially at Zowaiid which is not sufficient yet by any means.

Please do your best to rake out all the "useless mouths* at present doing old woman's work at ARISH,

Yours
Signed Philip W Chetwode
7 pm

The survey party are just in. They have practically finished from 2 miles east of Karm ibn Musleh to Khan Yunis inclusive. They and the Cavalry report there is no cover for a mouse between us and the position anywhere on the west or south west, an absolutely bare slope up for thousands of yards so featureless that they cannot map it.

 

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:

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, Egyptian Expeditionary Force Chetwode Letter 2 March 1917


Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 19 March 2011 11:54 AM EADT

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