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Saturday, 3 October 2009
The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Contents
Topic: BatzP - 2nd Gaza

The Second Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 19 April 1917

Contents


Items

Outline

 

Official War History Accounts

Australia

Gullett Account Part 1

Gullett Account Part 2

New Zealand

Powles New Zealand Official History

British
Falls
 
Analysis
Keogh Account 

 

War Diaries

Australian War Diaries
Headquarters, Anzac Mounted Division Account

General Staff Headquarters, Anzac Mounted Division, AIF, War Diary Account

1st Light Horse Brigade Account

1st Light Horse Field Ambulance Account

1st Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron Account 

1st Light Horse Regiment Account

2nd Light Horse Regiment Account

3rd Light Horse Regiment Account

2nd Light Horse Brigade Account

2nd Light Horse Field Ambulance Account 

2nd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron Account

5th Light Horse Regiment Account

6th Light Horse Regiment Account

7th Light Horse Regiment Account

Headquarters, Imperial Mounted Division Account

General Staff Headquarters, Imperial Mounted Division, AIF, War Diary Account

3rd Light Horse Brigade Account

3rd Light Horse Field Ambulance Account 

3rd Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron Account

8th Light Horse Regiment Account
9th Light Horse Regiment Account 
10th Light Horse Regiment Account

4th Light Horse Brigade Account

4th Light Horse Field Ambulance Account 

4th Light Horse Machine Gun Squadron Account

4th Light Horse Regiment Account
11th Light Horse Regiment Account 
12th Light Horse Regiment Account
 
 
New Zealand War Diaries
New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade Account
Auckland Mounted Rifles Account
Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment Account
Wellington Mounted Rifles Account 

 

Unit History Accounts

Australian

1st LHR Unit History Account 

2nd LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

3rd LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

5th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

6th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

7th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

8th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

9th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

10th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

4th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

11th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

12th LHR, AIF, Unit History Account

 

New Zealand

New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, Unit History Account

Auckland Mounted Rifles Regiment, Unit History Account

Canterbury Mounted Rifles Regiment, Unit History Account

Wellington Mounted Rifles Regiment, Unit History Account

 

Roll of Honour

Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

Lest We Forget

 

Further Reading:

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917

Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Contents

Posted by Project Leader at 10:33 PM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 March 2011 7:38 PM EAST
Thursday, 1 October 2009
Second Gaza, Palestine, April 19, 1917, Outline
Topic: BatzP - 2nd Gaza

Second Gaza

Palestine, 19 April 1917

Outline

 

Tank Redoubt where tanks and infantry attacked the Ottoman lines.
 
[Photograph by Gal Shaine.]

 

Second Gaza, fought on 19 April 1917. this action occurred as a result of a renewed British attempt to capture the Turkish coastal strong point situated on the edge of sand dunes three kilometres inland. The British commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, General Sir Archibald :Murray, determined on a direct frontal assault by three British infantry divisions, the Imperial Mounted Division (which was half Australian) and the Imperial Camel Corps (also half Australian) both fighting in a dismounted role. Intended to help the attack were six tanks and a supply of gas-shells, which had been recently received and not previously employed in this theatre of war. Supporting the main thrust was the Anzac Mounted Division (half Australian, under Major-General Harry Chauvel.

 

The Allied attack at the Second Battle of Gaza

 

This attack was even less successful than the first assault three weeks earlier, as the Turks were both better prepared and numerically stronger than before. 'The infantry fought hard to reach the ridge southeast of the town, where a few of them-in conjunction with a larger party of Australians from the Camel Corps and a tank-managed to capture one redoubt. Another was seized by other Australian camel troops and light horsemen of the Imperial Mounted Division, but with heavy losses. Chauvel's division, given the task of keeping away any enemy reinforcements attempting to intervene from the east, went into action against the Turkish 3rd Cavalry Division and easily drove it off.

The whole effort was a dismal failure which cost the attacking force over 6,000 casualties-5,000 among the infantry, 547 in the Imperial Mounted Division, 345 in the Camel Corps and 105 in the Anzac Mounted Division. The attack never seriously threatened the Turkish defence of the town, and, far from helping British aims in the area, gave a significant boost to enemy morale and convinced them that they could continue to hold southern Palestine.

 

"Victory is sweet." Generals [l to r] Issed, Kress, and Djamal, toast their success under a destroyed tank after the battle.
 
[The name of the tank above the three generals was HMLS Nutty.]

 

HMLS = His Majesty's Land Ship


Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 126-127.



Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:

H.S. Gullett, (1944), The Australian Imperial Force in Sinai and Palestine, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.

A.J. Hill, (1978), Chauvel of the Light Horse, Carlton, Vic.: Melbourne University Press.

 

Further Reading:

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, British Forces, Roll of Honour

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: Second Gaza, Palestine, April 19, 1917, Outline

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Saturday, 3 October 2009 10:37 PM EADT
Sunday, 19 April 2009
The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Roll of Honour
Topic: BatzP - 2nd Gaza

The Second Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 19 April 1917

Allied Forces

Roll of Honour

 

Poppies on the Roll of Honour, Australian War Memorial, Canberra

 

The Roll of Honour contains the names of all the men known to have given their lives in service of the Allied cause during The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917.

 

Roll of Honour

 

Australian Imperial Forces, Roll of Honour 

New Zealand Expeditionary Force, Roll of Honour 

British Forces, Roll of Honour

 

Lest We Forget 

 

 

Further Reading:

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour 

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 March 2011 9:01 PM EAST
Saturday, 19 April 2008
The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Gullett Account Part 1
Topic: BatzP - 2nd Gaza

The Second Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 19 April 1917

Gullett Account Part 1

 

 
Left to right: Lt Murray, Surveyor; Mr Gullett, Official War Correspondent; Lt O'Connor, Photographer.

 

The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine,  Chapter XVIII Second Gaza.

 

Chapter XVIII Second Gaza

Both Dobell and Murray were clearly determined to put the best possible complexion upon the engagements of March 26th while they applied themselves to preparing a second attack with all the resources at their command. They aimed at achieving a decisive victory over the Turks in a pitched battle, and by this triumph to smother up the fiasco of March 26th. During this time Dobell repeatedly advised the Commander-in-Chief that the outlook was exceptionally bright, and Murray unfortunately appears to have accepted these assurances without question. At a time when all or nearly all the other generals on the front, including Chetwode and Chauvel, took a very grave view of the gathering Turkish resistance, the Commander-in-Chief and the leader of Eastern Force entered with light hearts upon their preparations.
In the controversy which followed the Gaza fights, Murray's sympathisers have blamed the War Office for urging him to renew his offensive immediately after the failure of March 26th. " It was at this time (the end of March)," writes General Murray in his official dispatch of June 28th "when the hitherto adverse situation in Mesopotamia was rapidly changing in our favour, that the War Cabinet again changed the policy in this theatre. In a telegraphic communication dated March 30th, I was instructed, in view of the altered situation, to make my object the defeat of the Turks south of Jerusalem and the occupation of Jerusalem. I replied, drawing attention once more to my never varying estimate of the troops required, that a rapid advance could not be expected unless I were fortunate enough to inflict a severe blow on the enemy, and that heavy fighting with considerable losses would have to be expected if the Turks held, as I anticipated, a series of strong positions between the Gaza-Beersheba and the Jerusalem-Jaffa lines. After consideration of this reply by the War Cabinet, I was informed that the War Cabinet relied on me to pursue the enemy with all the rapidity compatible with the necessary progress of my communications and was anxious that I should push my operations with all energy, though at the same time 110 additional troops were to be sent to me, since it was considered that, in view of the military situation of the enemy, my present force would suffice. At that time, as always, I had fully appreciated the importance of offensive operations in this theatre, and, having failed to take Gaza by a coup de elan, I was anxious to take it, if possible, by more deliberate operations before the enemy was further reinforced, chiefly on account of its water-supply. I was therefore ready, as I stated at the time, to attack Gaza with my present force before the end of April, and had good hopes, provided the enemy was not heavily reinforced, of capturing the town."

In consequence of these messages, it has been suggested that the War Office was responsible for the second attack on the Gaza defences. But in fairness to the War Cabinet Murray's cabled reports of the engagement of March 26th must be taken into consideration. Reading the Commander-in-Chief 's messages, the Cabinet might very well have taken a cheerful view of the prospect of a second assault. In fact, the statements made by both Murray and Dobell immediately after March 26th might have been specially designed to secure approval, the one from his Commander-in-Chief, and the other from the War Cabinet, for the attack which was made in April. The War Cabinet, believing what it was told, took the only course open to it. The full responsibility for the second attempt on the Gaza-Beersheba defences must rest with Murray and Dobell.

The position early in April was that the Turks had a force of between 20,000 and 25.000 rifles on a sixteen-mile front extending towards Beersheba from the sea west of Gaza. East of Gaza the line, which roughly followed the Gaza-Beersheba road, ran along a low, irregular system of ridges, which the enemy had been for a long time engaged in digging trenches and constructing redoubts. The approach to this chain of ridges from the south was up long and gentle slopes devoid of either fences or trees. From their entrenchments the Turks had the country for many miles to the south and south-west always under detailed observation, and their fire swept every immediate approach to their lines. Considering their position in more detail, it was flanked on the north-west by the sea, and then ran across about 4,000 yards of sand dunes slightly to the south of Gaza, whence it was carried across the face of the town through a maze of cactus hedges on to an elevation known as '' Samson's Ridge." It then ran through the Maze, the Labyrinth, and Green Hill to Ali Muntar. Immediately east of Ali Muntar there was a gap about 800 yards wide-bare plain, across which part of the 53rd Division had advanced under destructive fire on March 26th. This gap, known as " Delilah's Neck," the Turks always left practically open, as it was completely dominated by the Ali Muntar defences on the west, and by the beginning of the chain of ridges towards the south-east, along which the line was then continued. A feature of this system of ridges was that it contained a number of rough semi-circles open to the south and south-west, which, with the heights in Turkish hands, brought attacking troops under enfilade-fire as they advanced to close quarters. From Gaza towards Beersheba the formidable redoubts in the system were the " tank " system (as it was afterwards known), Atawineh, Hareira, and Sheria. Two great wadis, the Imleih and the Sheria, with their many bays and tributaries, effectively covered the left flank of the Turkish position.

This line being almost unassailable at the Gaza end, and its flank towards Beersheba being protected by country containing little water except in the rainy season, the enemy was on ground highly favourable in itself for defence, and easy to improve by digging and wiring. Always great workers with their picks and shovels, the Turks laboured strenuously, in the days which followed the British failure of March 26th, to make themselves unassailable; at the same time they brought down every available man, machine-gun, and field-piece from the country as far north as Damascus. Faithfully served by the superior German aircraft, they were fully aware of Dobell's active preparations for another attack. Observation was easy. Dobell's infantry divisions (including the 74th, which had been brought forward from El Arish) and his mounted divisions were in the open around Belah and along the Ghuzze towards the south-east, and concealment was no longer possible. Dobell had still a marked superiority in numbers. His effective troops probably outnumbered the Turks early in April by at least two to one. Nevertheless a more experienced and less impetuous leader would have paused before coming, as Dobell did, to the decision to avenge the failure of March 26th by an assault with all his strength against the great Turkish stronghold. But Dobell's confidence was boundless, and he found Murray only too willing to accept his estimate of the outlook. "When your next move takes place," Murray wrote to Dobell at this time, " I have every confidence it will be most successful. Every detail for the attack should be worked out before assuming the offensive. All gas preparations should be carefully prepared in case it is necessary to use them, and an overwhelming supply of shells should be at hand. A two days' preliminary bombardment is strongly recommended, even at the risk of the enemy evacuating Gaza, in which case the cavalry must pursue with the greatest vigour." Murray also advised the War Office; I' We are in close touch with the enemy, who now occupies a strong position west of Gaza. Preparations are proceeding satisfactorily. With a view to turning the enemy out by deliberate attack, the heavy artillery and tanks have been brought up."

Dobell was even more sanguine than his leader. Both he and Murray placed great confidence in the tanks, of which six were to be employed; and the two generals were so satisfied about the position that they were for some h i e in doubt as to whether it would be necessary to use gas although 2,000 gas-shells were now at Belah. Dobell therefore asked the chief of Murray's staff whether the Commander-in-Chief ' I wished me definitely to use gas-shells except in case of urgent necessity." "Neither the enemy's numbers nor the strength of his positions," Dobell wrote, "are likely to force the necessity upon me, so far as I can judge." He added that he was uninfluenced by any doubt whatever as to the ability of his force "to defeat the enemy in front of me." He was not in the dark about the strength of the Turkish positions, for he pointed out to Murray that " the ~7holeof the cup. of which the line El Sire-Mansura-Sheikh Abbas-Sharta-Um Jerrar is the rim, is under artillery fire from the position of the enemy, who has admirable observation all over it from Ali Muntar and its neighbourhood." But despite that, lie was convinced of his " very favourable situation in comparison with the enemy, as regards armament and equipment." Meanwhile the engineers were busy developing water-supply at Belah and in the Wadi Ghuzze, where a good source was discovered at a depth of twenty-two feet. At Um Jerrar a number of large empty cisterns were discovered, and camel-trains operating by night were employed to fill these with water; an advanced base of 67,000 gallons was established there for the use of the infantry when they moved forward. The British airmen, both of the land forces and the Royal Naval Air Service, were active in reconnaissance over all the country as far north as Beisan, south of the Sea of Galilee, where "the very bright railway lines" told their story of great activity along the Turkish line of communications. On the night of April 8th 1,400 pounds of explosives were dropped on the German aerodrome at Ramleh, some sixty miles north of Belah and three direct hits were obtained on hangars.

The scruple about the use of gas is difficult to understand after the shells had been brought all the way from England to Belah. Perhaps Murray hesitated about being the first to introduce the terrible new weapon on a front where it had been until then a stranger; but towards the middle of April, when even Dobell became impressed by the rapid growth of the Turkish forces and defences, its employment was definitely decided upon. Murray personally presided at a conference attended by Dobell, Chetwode, and the divisional commanders. at which the final plans for the attack were adopted; after explaining his scheme he concluded by emphasising the significance of his two additional weapons, the gas-shells and the tanks.

Dobell's plan was simple. The infantry divisions were to crush the enemy on his main position around Gaza, while the mounted divisions pressed back his flank towards Beersheba, prevented the withdrawal of reinforcements from there to Gaza, and held themselves in readiness for the pursuit. In the infantry attack the 52nd Division was to assault Ali Muntar and its surrounding defences, while the 54tIi, crossing the Gaza-Beersheba road on the right of the 52nd, was to capture the enemy's works at Khurbet el Bir, and then swing round and seize Anzac Ridge. At the same time the 53rd was to attack to the south-west of Gaza on the sand-dune sector between Samson's Hill and Sheikh Ajlin on the west. It was therefore a plain frontal attack against the full strength of the great Gaza position, and the adoption of such a scheme is conclusive evidence of the remarkable confidence of Murray and Dobell.

The plan was to be worked out in two stages. In the first stage the infantry was to advance across the Ghuzze to a line running from the northern slopes of the Sheikh Abbas Ridge along the Mansura Ridge to the El Sire Ridge south of El Sheluf, and this line was to be extended across the sandhills towards the sea north of Tel el Ajjul. As soon as the position was occupied, it was to be wired and made as strong as possible, the heavy artillery was to be moved forward, and the main attack against the Gaza defences was then to be launched.

The preliminary bombardment began at 5.30 on the morning of April 17th. Shooting from the west of the Ghuzze, Murray's heavy guns made good practice on the Turkish positions, which were now well known. Simultaneously the French cruiser Requin and two British monitors joined in the attack from the sea. But the bombardment, although heavier than anything known up to this time in Palestine was quite inadequate against such earthworks as existed at Gaza. Murray lacked the guns-and especially he lacked the munitions-for a long-sustained barrage calculated even to keep the enemy down in his trenches during the advance of the British infantry. Moreover, the sand-dunes between Gaza and the sea, and the cactus hedges and sandy soil from the edge of the sand-dunes round to Ali Muntar, served to smother the shell-bursts and make them relatively harmless. Furthermore, Murray, although lie had now a number of heavy batteries, had not guns enough to engage in effective counter-battery work and at the same time to bombard the Turkish trenches.

It has been explained in the preface that this volume deals with the British troops on the front only so far as it is necessary to make clear the work of the Australians. In none of its chapters does it attempt to set out in detail the work of the British forces. From this time forward, as those forces are increased, the relative neglect of troops other than Australian will become still more marked, and readers should keep in view the fact that this is due solely to the Australian character of this work.

Chetwode's Desert Column command was now limited to the mounted troops; the whole operation was under the direct control of Dobell, whose headquarters were at Belah. It has already been said that the scheme commended itself to neither Chetwode nor Chauvel, the two most experienced leaders on the front; and it is interesting to record that one British commander. after outlining the details of the attack to his brigadiers, concluded with the remark; " That, gentlemen, is the plan, and I might say frankly that I do not think much of it." But Dobell, who now commanded a substantial army, appears to have had no such misgivings when, shortly after 7 o'clock on the evening of April 16th, the infantry moved from their camps west of the Ghuzze, and advanced towards the wadi crossings.

By 7 o'clock on the morning of the 17th the 5md and 54th Divisions had made good the line Sheikh Abbas-Mansura Kurd Hill. So far the Turks had not seriously resisted the march and the only casualties were six men shot by outlying enemy snipers. One tank, however, which was in support of a brigade of the 54th Division on the right, came under heavy artillery fire soon after dawn, and after receiving three direct hits was set on fire and put out of action. As soon as the infantry reached their positions they commenced vigorously to dig themselves in, and the enemy now opened upon them with many guns and during the day inflicted 150 casualties. Most of the line was painfully exposed in full view of the enemy, whose gunners also easily covered the wadi and so were enabled to harass the British communications.

The Desert Column troops had been early astir on the right. Two hours after midnight Anzac Mounted Division was in position at Shellal, the Imperial Mounted Division was concentrated at Tel el Jemmi, while the Camel Brigade remained for the time being at Abasan el Rebir. By free reconnaissance during the day the two mounted divisions, assisted by McKenzie's light car patrol, located the enemy's line on the flank, which, running roughly parallel with the Gaza-Beersheba road, extended from Khurbet Sihan through Atawineh and Urn Adrah on to a point two miles east of Hill 420, south-west of Hareira. The advanced patrols did a little skirmishing with the enemy, but were never seriously engaged, and had only about thirty casualties. That night the two mounted divisions left a line of outposts extending from the right of the 54th Division to El Gamli on the Ghuzze, while the main force of horsemen was withdrawn to the west of the wadi.

During these preliminary operations enemy aircraft many times bombed the mounted troops. On April 17th a bomb was dropped into a camp of the 2nd Light Horse Brigade limbers and spare horses at Shellal. Six troopers were killed, and Captain C. C. Easterbrook' and twelve other ranks wounded. The horses always suffered severely from these raids, and here seventeen were killed and thirteen wounded.

All day the infantry had worked hard at the consolidation of the new line; the heavy guns were advanced, and munitions and water brought forward in preparation for the second and decisive phase of the operation. The enemy was perhaps never in doubt as to the British plan of attack; but this necessary preliminary movement to the Mansura position confirmed his belief that Gaza would be the main British objective, and gave him two full days in which to complete his defences, study his zones of rifle and machine-gun fire, and register the ranges for his artillery. The 53rd Division, which had not yet crossed the wadi, during the morning pushed forward strong reconnaissances in the direction of Samson's Ridge and Sheikh Ajlin.

On the 18th the two mounted divisions repeated and extended their reconnaissance of the previous day. The two days' probing had convinced Chetwode that, if his brigades were to make a dismounted attack, they would be unable, unless aided by the infantry, to pierce the line on the flank. He communicated this opinion to Dobell, and asked that, when a general advance was ordered, part of the 74th Division (which was still in reserve) should be directed against the Atawineh Redoubt. On the infantry line the 18th passed quietly, except that the enemy continued to shell the advanced trenches and the communications and reserves about the wadi. In the evening the Camel Brigade was withdrawn from Desert Column, and placed under the orders of the 54th Division. Dobell had now decided to attack all along the line early on the morning of the 19th, and final orders were issued.

Despite Murray's assurances to the War Office that all ranks had been aroused to a pitch of "great enthusiasm" by the engagement of March 26th, the army which awaited the dawn on the morning of April 19th was one filled with forebodings. Men who have been for some time in the field are quick to perceive the true feelings of their immediate leaders, and infantry and mounted troops alike had at this time little faith in the High Command or in their own capacity to overrun the Turkish position. Nevertheless there was no doubt about the morale of Dobell's army. All brigades were strong in numbers, and the men were in excellent condition; three of the infantry divisions, with the exception of one brigade, had not been in action for a long time; and, if officers and men regarded the adventure ahead of them as one unlikely to be attended by success, they were none the less determined to strain human endeavour to breaking-point. The night was fine but very cold, and the men waited impatiently for daylight. At 5.30 a.m. on the 19th Dobell's artillery opened its bombardment of the enemy's positions. Gas-shells were freely used against Ali Muntar and other strong points, and the Requin and the British monitors (Nos. 21 and 31) fired all their guns at Ali Muntar and the surrounding positions. The gunnery from the ships appeared to be effective. " This accurate and sustained fire," Dobell wrote afterwards in his report, " must have rendered the task of observation from Ali Muntar mosque a precarious task to the enemy," but, if it did, it certainly did not interfere with the effective shooting which the Turkish and Austrian batteries maintained throughout the day's fighting. At 7.15 a.m., after nearly two hours' bombardment, the 53rd Division on the extreme left advanced towards Samson's Ridge and Sheikh Ajlin, and a quarter of an hour later, in order on the right, the 52nd Division, the 54th, the Camel Brigade, the 4tli and 3rd Light Horse Brigades, and the 5th Mounted Brigade were all pressing forward. The Anzac Mounted Division, which was to protect the right flank, also advanced briskly.

The Camels and the brigades of the Imperial Mounted Division had a considerable distance to travel after dismounting, and therefore, with the exception of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, did not immediately come under fire. But the 52nd and 54th Divisions Suffered heavy punishment immediately they left their trenches. The 52nd Division, striking for Ali Muntar and its surrounding defences, had charge of the most difficult sector of the whole line; and unfortunately Major General Smith was contained by the El Sire Ridge, along which he was advancing, to a very narrow front, on which it was practically impossible to use more than one brigade. At a little after 8 a.m. this brigade (the 155th) captured Lee's Hill, on the ridge 3,500 yards from Ali Muntar, but on attempting to continue the attack the brigade came under very heavy machine-gun fire from Outpost Hill only 1,000 yards away on its direct front. This reduced the rate of progress, and the 156th Brigade on its right, which could not come into action until the 155th had made further progress, was kept almost idle for some hours.

On the right of the 52nd, the 54th Division was making good headway despite severe casualties, and soon its left flank, the 163rd Brigade, was in front of the 156th. This left the 162nd open to heavy enfilade fire from the direction of Ali Muntar. At g a.m. a battalion had reached the Gaza-Beersheba road and cut the telegraph wires, and further to the right part of the 54th was closing on the sector known as " Beer Trenches " and the strongly defended position afterwards known as Tank Redoubt. On their right, again, the Camels were also rapidly approaching Tank Redoubt, and the 4th and 3rd Light Horse Brigades were within a few hundred yards of the enemy's main front line.
But although the attack had everywhere been marked by the greatest dash, and most of the brigades were now close to the enemy's positions, the Turks were nowhere seriously menaced. From Atawineh, where the light horse riflemen were securely held, to the sand-dunes in the west where the 53rd Division was arrested on Samson's Ridge, the Turks with their machine-guns and artillery never lost control of the situation. With one single exception at Tank Redoubt, every attempt by the infantry and the mounted men to reach the enemy trenches was shattered and frustrated.

The five remaining tanks, which were handled with great skill and gallantry by their individual commanders, moved simultaneously in advance of the infantry and made some progress for a while in the morning. Had they been concentrated on a narrow sector they might have enabled the infantry to make at least one serious breach in the enemy's line. But they were scattered along the front, and, advancing singly on the naked slopes, became in turn targets for a great number of the enemy's guns. So heavy was this fire that, even where the tanks for a time escaped destruction, the infantry following was practically destroyed by the bursting shells. One tank in front of the 52nd Division was boldly driven forward and reached Outpost Hill; but the infantry was unable to follow, and the tank, after demoralising the enemy and causing considerable losses in his trenches, was set on fire by his artillery and burnt out.

The Turks began to counter-attack as early as 9.30, when two battalions were thrown against the exposed left of the 54th Division. Four British machine-guns were at once rushed forward, and the gunners, after inflicting heavy losses, smashed the advance. Several times during the day enemy aggression was similarly checked, but the readiness of the Turks to seize every opportunity for the offensive was clear evidence of their strength and superior positions.

The problem before the infantry was a very plain one, and divisional commanders and brigadiers, having given their battalions their objectives, could do little or nothing more. There was no opportunity for manoeuvre or changing tactics. If the troops, supported by the artillery, were not strong enough to cross the bare country in the face of the concealed enemy, the operation must fail. Dobell was nobly served that day by his British infantry. For nearly twelve hours the brigades of the 52nd and 54th Divisions, on whom fell the brunt of the assault, faced their hopeless task with splendid courage and sustained endeavour. Time after time the leading waves were annihilated by the deadly machine-guns, and time after time the succeeding waves pressed forward only to be destroyed in their turn. The artillery shooting on the infantry sectors was good, although gunners from the lower ground had observation inferior to that which favoured the enemy, and unfortunately the light clouds, which during most of the day overhung the battleground made the work of the airmen who were cooperating with the batteries difficult and unsatisfactory. Nothing but a barrage sufficiently heavy and accurate to keep the Turkish machine-guns and rifles temporarily out of action could have enabled the infantry to reach the Turkish lines. Consequently, although platoon and company commanders threw away their lives with utter recklessness, and the Lowlanders of the 52nd Division and English Territorials of the 54th followed them unflinchingly, their heroic endeavour was in vain.

While the infantry was striving so finely but to no purpose, the Camel Brigade and the 4th and 3rd Light Horse Brigades were similarly engaged on the right. The enemy had foreseen that the main British blow would fall on Gaza; but, knowing the quality of Chetwode's mounted troops, and fearing a dash at his rear, had taken no chances as to his flank towards Beersheba. On the morning of the 19th his line of trenches and redoubts in that direction was held in strength by infantry supported by many batteries, while out on his extreme left he had the 3rd Turkish Cavalry Division. Before Gaza, where the British infantry advanced, the terrain, although bare of surface-cover, was to some extent relieved by small wadis and a number of ridges; but further east, where the right flank of the 54th Division, the Camels, and the two light horse brigades were assaulting, the long slopes up to the enemy line were, except for slight undulations, almost as even as a floor. Scattered crops of barley, just coming into ear, and splashed with patches of red poppies, provided the sole cover for the advancing troops; and the barley favoured the enemy rather than the British and Australians, inasmuch as it concealed his forward posts and snipers.

Dobell had decided to keep the 74th Division in general reserve to the west of the Ghuzze, and therefore refused Chetwode's request for reinforcements for the mounted troops in the attack upon the Atawineh position. But early in the morning of the 19th the 161st Brigade of the 54th Division was placed under the command of the Imperial Camel Brigade, and this added somewhat to the strength of the assault towards the right. The 161st Brigade had on its sector the knoll which afterwards was known as Tank Redoubt. Then came the Camel Brigade between Tank Redoubt and the 4th Light Horse Brigade, which was marching roughly with its centre on the Wadi Sihan, with Sihan and the country between that place and Atawineh as its objective. The 3rd Light Horse Brigade was directed on Atawineh, with the 5th Mounted Brigade on its right pushing for the Beersheba road between Atawineh and Sausage Ridge. Hodgson, of the Imperial Mounted Division, kept the 6th Mounted Brigade in reserve near Mendur and Munkheileh. Anzac Mounted Division, demonstrating against Sausage Ridge, was to prevent the enemy from enfilading the attack of the 5th Mounted Brigade. Smith's Camel Brigade had in immediate support its battery of mountain guns, while two Royal Horse Artillery batteries of the Imperial Mounted Division were on the slopes of Sheikh Abbas to the right and " B " Battery of the Honourable Artillery Company was on the right with the 5th Brigade. In addition, Smith and Hodgson were promised general support from Dobell's main artillery force, much of which had its objectives within effective range. The bombardment of the positions began at 5.30, simultaneously with the gunning of the entrenchments about Gaza, but the shooting on the right was very faulty. Most of the shells passed across the front of the Imperial Mounted Division and pitched on to unoccupied territory; while, when the batteries of the division came into action from Sheikh Abbas, their light metal was harmless against the strong enemy earthworks.

The Camel Brigade crossed the Ghuzze in darkness, dismounted about 4,000 yards from the enemy's line, and moved forward after daylight to the Sheikh Abbas Ridge. The 1st and 3rd Australian Battalions, which were to attack, were then about 3,000 yards from Tank Redoubt, which they were to pass immediately on their left. The 1st Battalion, under Langley, was on the left of the Camel line, but the infantry was deployed for action about zoo yards in advance of his flank. When at 7.30 the order for the attack was given, the infantry moved off strongly, with that 200 yards' start, and Langley recognised that, if his companies were to conform, they must travel fast. Each man carried a pick and shovel in addition to 300 rounds of ammunition. No. 2 Company, under Captain A. E. G. Campbell, was on the left, with No. 3, led by Captain F. H. Naylor: in support, while NO. 4, under Captain H. R. Denson,' was on the right, in touch with the 3rd Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel N. B. de Lancey The 2nd Battalion (British) was in reserve.

The two leading companies of the 1st Battalion attacked on section fronts in three extended lines, with their Lewis guns on the right of the second line. The ground sloped gradually up to the enemy, and offered no cover except an occasional slight undulation and little local wadis, worn by flood waters. For the first mile casualties were slight, although both battalions came under considerable shrapnel fire immediately they moved. Campbell's men on the left moved swiftly, but the spirited English infantry was frequently at the double, and the Camels found it hard to catch up the 200 yards and straighten the line. Tank Redoubt, which was now in a cloud of smoke and dust from the bursting of British shells, loomed up vaguely, slightly to their left, but the well placed enemy line in front of the Camel sector was still indefinite. When the leading men were about 1,200 yards from the redoubt, a British tank, " The Nutty," took up the lead on a track between the infantry and the Australians, and, going on surely and boldly, quickened the pace of the battalions that followed it. But no sooner did it appear than every enemy gun within range switched, as though automatically, on to it, and in a few minutes it was obscured by dozens of bursting shells. The troops on either side had swung instinctively into the wake of the tank, and so caught much of this fire. Machine-gun and rifle fire also became very active, and began to cause gaps in the already thin ranks of the attackers.

The British, still in the lead on the left, were the first to receive this heavy punishment, and, as their leading wave dwindled, the Australians pulled up abreast of them. About half-a-mile from the redoubt, Campbell, with No. 2 Company lost touch with No. 4 Company on his right, which had become separated by a slight but increasing ridge. This exposed his flank, but he pressed on in conformity with the infantry. About 350 yards from the redoubt a slight ridge, running parallel to the advancing line, offered a little cover, and here Campbell halted his leading men. So far, not a shot had been fired by the Camels, but, as the men threw themselves down, they came into action. The following waves, which had closed up on the first line during the march, were quickly on the position, and Campbell sent back for the No. 3 Company, under Naylor, which was in support 500 yards away. He then decided that it would be impossible to follow his orders, pass Tank Redoubt on his left, and leave it to the infantry. Unless the infantry at once carried the position which in their exhausted state was highly improbable-such an attempt must have exposed the Australians to cross-fire at point-blank range. Campbell therefore decided to make a dash with his slender force at the redoubt as soon as No. 3 Company came up; and, while the Camels were endeavouring to build up a line for this heroic attempt, the infantry on the left were held for a similar purpose.
Meanwhile the tank had been in difficulties in a patch of broken ground; after getting clear, its crew temporarily lost direction, turned sharply to the right, and moved along immediately in front of the Camel line. Discovering his error, the dashing officer in charge returned over his tracks. This movement took place on the top of the little ridge; the vast, cumbersome machine, silhouetted on the skyline, and the Australians, now ready with fixed bayonets within a few yards of it, mere swallowed up in a barrage of shell-fire, and many men were hit.

When the advance began, Nos. 2 and 3 Companies had a total strength of about zoo of all ranks, including Lewis gunners, signallers, and stretcher-bearers. By the time the No. 3 Company had joined Campbell on the ridge, and the line had suffered the shelling brought down by the tank, about IOO of these had been killed or wounded. The redoubt was now seen to be an entrenched knob a couple of acres in extent, protected by light barbed-wire entanglements. It stood a few hundred yards in front of the main line of Turkish trenches extending towards Atawineh, and was linked up with that system by a communication trench. Standing thus, as an outpost of cleverly constructed earthworks, it was designed to enfilade any approach from either side towards the main line. Campbell sent back messengers to say that he was joining the infantry in their assault on the redoubt, and urged that the 2nd Camel Battalion in reserve should be immediately sent up.

By this time the tank had recovered its position and was heading again for the redoubt. Campbell rushed forward six Lewis gunners fifty yards in advance of his line, where they opened fire on rows of Turkish heads which showed up above the parapets "like cabbages on a wall." As the Lewis gunners commenced shooting, the Australians rose and dashed forward with their bayonets. Two enemy batteries of four guns each were now shooting point-blank at the tank at a range of only about 400 yards, but with miraculous luck the great vehicle rolled on, followed by the Camels and the British infantry. It was now apparently almost red-hot, and belched forth great volumes of smoke; but its heroic crew, with shells bursting all round them, and half-lost in a cloud of smoke and dust, drove it on through the wire entanglements, over the outer circle of trenches, until it reached the centre of the redoubt, the highest point over several square miles of country. There, hit several times in quick succession by the enemy gunners, it broke down and burst into flames.

The gallant crew had nobly fulfilled their task. If the tank had drawn a terrific fire on the Australians and British infantry, it had served them as a lead and an inspiration. Of the hundred survivors of the Camel companies who attempted to follow it over that last terrible 350 yards, about seventy fell before the hail of Turkish fire. But the surviving remnant, undaunted, charged shouting with their bayonets at the Turkish trenches. At the same time that the thirty Australians, sustained by the super-strength which is given to men in close mortal conflict, began to use their steel on the Turks, twenty gallant men of the British infantry also reached the redoubt. At that moment the position was occupied by about 600 Turks, with some German and Austrian officers. But with the Australians and British it was now an affair of wild desperation, and each man fought with the spirit of ten. The Turks, their nerves shattered by the amazing spectacle of the burning tank, and the fire directed upon it by their own guns, panicked and broke. Many were killed and wounded, forty were made prisoners, and the remainder, to the number of about 500, threw down their rifles, scrambled out of the trenches, and ran across the open for their main line about 600 yards away.

Campbell, a thick-set young Queenslander of great physical strength and activity, was shot several times through his uniform and equipment, but continued to show magnificent leadership. His six Lewis guns were still intact, and he ordered them into a position in the open where they could fire upon the fugitive enemy mass. The gunners mowed down the Turks in swathes, and continued to destroy them until they reached the shelter of their trenches. Campbell then assembled the forty prisoners, led them to the British side of the redoubt, and told them to run for safety. The Turks needed no urging. Already the enemy had opened concentrated gun-fire upon the position, and swept it with machineguns and rifles from his main line. Moving back across the redoubt, Campbell found himself covered by a German officer with a revolver at a few yards' range. He snatched for his own weapon; but, before the German could pull, a shell pitched into the loose, pounded earth between them, When the dust cleared, Campbell was alone.

The splendid fighting remnant of Englishmen and Australians then hung on to the infernal knoll for upwards of two hours. For a while they lined the trenches facing the Turks, and opened a futile fire against utterly hopeless odds. A German officer was seen walking about on the parapet of an intermediate Turkish trench about 300 yards away, beckoning the Turks to follow him in a counter-attack. The Turks, however, would not come out. Several Australians fired at the German, but all missed him. Pounded with shells and swept by machine-gun and rifle fire, they melted away until nearly every man had been killed or wounded. But at no time had they any sure prospect of holding the position, and by about z o'clock the situation had become desperate. Support was not in sight, nor could fresh troops have joined them without suffering heavy losses; and, unless the attack was to succeed all along the line, the redoubt must be evacuated at nightfall at latest. Campbell had placed his six Lewis gunners in the open to the right of the trenches, where they had a clear zone of fire, and for some time they continued to do effective shooting against the Turkish batteries and enemy formations which could be seen assembling for a counterattack. One body of Turks, about a battalion strong, began to march in column of route towards the redoubt from the right; the gun-fire was still increasing, and the last of the English and Australians in the position were being shot down. Campbell, during the last stages of the approach and while he was in the redoubt, had sent back six runners with messages. So intense was the fire that four were killed and the other two wounded; none of the messages reached the rear. " I then issued orders," said Campbell afterwards, " to the few remaining men to retire to a small wadi on our right rear as best they could. I also communicated my order to the Englishmen. At that time I got a message from a Bants officer on the other side of the redoubt to say that he considered the position hopeless, and was going to surrender." Campbell next went to warn the Lewis gunners of the evacuation. He found them all on their guns; but five were dead, and the sixth, a lad named Barry: had his right arm shattered. " I told the wounded boy, Barry," said Campbell, " to save his life as best he could. Barry asked, ' What about my gun, sir?' I told him to leave it and save himself. He replied, ' I think I can carry it '; and he carried it out on his left shoulder, with his right arm hanging broken."

Campbell then returned to the redoubt, where (in his own words) he found Quartermaster-Sergeant H. L. D. Malcolm,' " who should have been away at the rear, but had joined in the charge for the fun of it. He had no business there at all, but I found him helping wounded, giving men their direction out, and using a rifle between times. A little later, he and Lieutenant E. J. Aylwin* were the only two Australians left. I told Malcolm to go first, which he did only after an argument. He was deaf, and did not seem to hear the intensive firing." Campbell and Aylwin had enlisted in Toowoomba together at the beginning of the war. As the Turks drew very close, Aylwin made his dash, followed by Campbell, under very heavy fire. Aylwin was hit as he ran, but Campbell's luck still stood, and he was one of only five men, out of the 102 who made up the company in the morning, who did not become casualties. Five or six Australians and most of the surviving British were taken prisoners, nearly all of them having been previously wounded. Lieutenant W. M. Fender: who was wounded in the redoubt, also fell into the hands of the Turks. Captain Naylor, a fine soldier, who had fought at Gallipoli, was wounded while leading his men up to the position, but persisted in going on, and was afterwards killed in the trenches. Nine officers reached the redoubt, and, in addition to Naylor and Fender, Lieutenants L. G. C. Young, B. A. Clark, E. J. Aylwin, V. Allan, B. N. Wells, and F. Matthews were wounded.

While No. 2 and No. 3 Companies of the 1st Camel Battalion were advancing on Tank Redoubt, the 3rd Battalion, tinder de Lancey Forth, was progressing well on the right.

With two companions in the firing line, one in support and one in reserve, the men moved forward under heavy fire from the Turkish batteries. Before the tank which reached the redoubt had taken up its position between the 1st Battalion and the English, it had followed the course of the 3rd Battalion, and the artillery fire upon Forth's men was in consequence greatly increased. Conforming to the 1st Battalion, despite the gap caused by the check to No. 4 Company, the 3rd Battalion rushed a trench on some high ground to the right of Tank Redoubt, and captured a number of prisoners. The leading company then continued its advance across the Beersheba road to some commanding ground, where the Camels were joined by a squadron of the 11th Light Horse Regiment, which came up on their right. This marked the extreme point reached by British troops. General Headquarters was afterwards disinclined to credit the claim of the Australians to have penetrated so far, but towards the end of the year the bones of three men of the 3rd Battalion were found on the ridge, grim testimony of the valour of the " Fighting Camels."

With Lewis guns and a machine-gun placed on one of two little mounds (afterwards known as "Jack and Jill ") to the north of the Beersheba road, this body of Camels and light horsemen found a good target in the Turks who were massing on their left for the counter-attack against Tank Redoubt. They also shot a number of horses in the gun-teams of an enemy battery, which, startled by the British advance, was limbering up to retire; but all the guns escaped.

The men on Jack and Jill were deep into the enemy line; but the success was purely local, and in the absence of strong and immediate support could not he exploited. Moreover these Australians had suffered severe casualties, and the squadron of the 11th Light Horse soon received orders to withdraw in conformity with the rest of the 4th Brigade line.

Captain A. R. Norris, who led the Camels, had been wounded on the march up, and Lieutenant J. Davidson (who succeeded him) ran across to the officer commanding the squadron of the 11th, and asked him to stand his ground. But the light horseman had definite orders, and Davidson with a single Camel company was therefore left in the air. Forth, who during his distinguished associations with the Camel Brigade was never far behind his foremost men, held the position until the Turks, after heavy shelling, assaulted with infantry in crescent formation. The order was then given for a withdrawal sufficient to straighten the line, and the company fell back a few hundred yards. Forth was wounded at this stage, but remained with his men, and continued to direct the fight.

 

Further Reading:

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Gullett Account Part 1

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 March 2011 8:58 PM EAST
The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Gullett Account Part 2
Topic: BatzP - 2nd Gaza

The Second Battle of Gaza

Palestine, 19 April 1917

Gullett Account Part 2

 

 
Left to right: Lt Murray, Surveyor; Mr Gullett, Official War Correspondent; Lt O'Connor, Photographer.

 

The following is extracted from the book written by HS Gullett called Sinai and Palestine,  Chapter XIX The Second Gaza Engagement - continued.

 

Chapter XIX The Second Gaza Engagement - continued.

The orders to the Imperial Mounted Division left a large amount of discretion to General Hodgson. He was to demonstrate strongly against the Atawineh defences, and so hold the enemy on his front and away from Gaza, where the main attack was being made by the infantry. If the opposition was not excessive, his brigades were to push right through-in which case the horses would be brought up and the troops of Desert Column might have done destructive work against the enemy's rear. Orders which allow such latitude in fulfilment, although often unavoidable, are seldom satisfactory in action. Passed to brigade and from brigade to regiment, they lead, unless communications continue exceptionally good, to different interpretations by different leaders. Some regiments will maintain their advance; others, perhaps on a more difficult sector, will be brought to a halt. At the second Gaza engagement the regiments of the 3rd and 4th Light Horse Brigades met with opposition more formidable than had been anticipated by General Dobell; but all treated the advance as one to be made regardless of cost, and fought on with their utmost strength and ingenuity to reach the Turkish line

The advance of Hodgson's division was to some extent disorganised by the premature action of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade under Royston. The regiments had marched from bivouac in the darkness, crossed the Ghuzze, and, half-choked with the dust raised by the horses, moved forward on compass bearings. They had then deployed, mounted, before dawn, a delicate operation in unknown country, hit here carried out with complete success. Their advance, like that of the rest of the army, was timed for 7.30 a.m. But Royston, owing to some misunderstanding, and in a fashion characteristic of all his impetuous actions, led his regiments forward before dawn until they were one and a half miles in advance of Munkheileh, where the 5th Mounted (Yeomanry) Brigade, which was to conform on their right, was still awaiting orders to move. As the men went forward on foot, they came under fire from Sausage Ridge on their right; as usually happens, they swung towards the Turkish batteries. This brought them on to the yeomanry sector, and at the same time made a gap inevitable between their left and the 4th Light Horse Brigade. At 6.40-nearly an hour before the time appointed for the attack Hodgson ordered Royston to halt until the yeomanry and the 4th Brigade came up on either side of him.

In this engagement the 4th Light Horse Brigade under Meredith, operating between the Camels and Royston's brigade, had only the 11th and 12th Regiments. It was nevertheless given a full brigade sector, and Meredith from the outset had only two squadrons in reserve. Major K. A. McKenzie, a capable Duntroon youngster, was this day winning his spurs as brigade-major. The 11th Regiment under Grant, and the 12th under Lieutenant-Colonel H. McIntosh, dismounted at Aseiferiyeh, about two and a half miles from the Atawineh Redoubt. Advancing on the right of the Wadi Sihan, McIntosh led his men direct on Atawineh, while Grant, whose sector included the wadi, pushed for the Turks between Atawineh and the right of the Camels. A barley crop, gay with red poppies, covered the slopes; the dew had been heavy, and the men were soon wet above their knees. Moving in column of troops, with the men of the leading wave about ten yards apart, the light horsemen presented, as they always did on foot, a painfully slender force for an assault on substantial and strongly-garrisoned earthworks; and there was not an officer in the brigade, or in the whole division who believed that the enterprise had the faintest chance of success. As they reached a spot afterwards known as " Two Tree Farm," where the brigade subsequently established its headquarters, they overran an enemy outpost and took fifty-six prisoners. But shrapnel was now bursting freely over them and, after they had passed the two trees, the Turks swept their line with machine-guns and rifles. At this time Royston, galloping across the open, reported a wide gap between the 3rd and 4th Brigades, and McIntosh's reserve squadron under Major D. Cameron' was sent to the right to cover it. This left the 12th Regiment with every man in the line. Cameron's men made good progress on a wide front, and occupied a ridge directly in front of Atawineh, from which it was about 800 yards distant. So far the men had been marching steadily, without using their rifles; but, as the Turkish fire became more intense, they went down in the barley and crawled, firing as opportunity offered.

Up to this time the advance of the 11th and 12th had gone with great vigour. The Camels and the infantry on the left had attracted most of the enemy's gun-fire, and, for the moment, the prospect that Meredith's brigade would reach its objectives appeared promising. But suddenly the enemy melted away-due to sheer dissolution by casualties." The line was still half-a-mile from the great Atawineh Redoubt on the skyline, and it became clear to Grant and McIntosh that further attempts to push forward, with no prospect of sufficient survivors for a final assault with the bayonet, would not be justified. The line was therefore halted, while, as the men flattened themselves out on the ground, and endeavoured to scratch themselves in, the German machine-gun fire cut the heads off the barley above them. McIntosh, who had gallantly advanced with his two squadrons, was hit by shrapnel pellets, one of which severed an artery in his groin.

He was carried out, and the bleeding was stopped; but a night or two afterwards, as he was lying in a hospital train at El Arish, the wound re-opened, and he was found dead in the morning. McIntosh had fought at Gallipoli and was a daring leader, much loved by his men. Lieutenant E. H. Cross.' adjutant of the 12th, was wounded soon afterwards; in one of the squadrons every officer was a casualty before 10 o’clock.

On the extreme left one squadron of the 11th Regiment continued to make slight headway, and, as we have seen joined up with de Lancey Forth's Camel battalion. But the punishment was now destructive along the whole front, and Grant was forced to make a slight withdrawal. So far not a sign of Turks had been seen in the earthworks ahead; but, as the British artillery practice on the sector was exceedingly poor, and only an occasional shell was pitching on to Atawineh, the enemy had undisturbed shooting at 800 yards upon the exposed Australian line, Cameron, who had taken over the 12th Regiment, therefore withdrew his two squadrons on the left to conform with the 11th, but kept the squadron on the right on the ridge which they had gained, in the hope that the 3rd Brigade might be able to join up there. But Royston's regiments were now in similar difficulties further back. All day the 11th and 12th maintained their line. The casualties exceeded 30 per cent. of all ranks, and yet the men continued in the highest spirits. " There was constant laughter among the barley " said one of the officers. '' Our fellows took the heavy casualties almost as a joke. ' Stretcher-bearer here,' shouted a trooper, 'I have got one in the leg.' He sat up laughing, and was instantly killed by shrapnel." When at 7.30 in the evening the line was withdrawn, all but one of the wounded and dead were carried out.

At daylight on the 19th, when the 5th Mounted Brigade of the Imperial Mounted Division was about Munkheileh Rijl, and the 4th Light Horse Brigade was to the east of Aseiferiyeh, both still awaiting orders, the 3rd Light Horse Brigade in the centre-having, as has been already stated, advanced dismounted in the darkness-was far up the slope and only about 800 yards from Atawineh. The 9th Regiment was on the right, the 10th on the left, and the 8th, still with its horses, in reserve. The 9th and 10th marched one and a half miles on foot, and it was not until daylight that they discovered their isolation. So far their presence had not been detected by the Turks, but, with the dawn, as they moved through the patches of barley and intervening grassland brilliant with wild flowers, and startled many quail which awakened memories of pleasant sporting days in Australia, they were heavily shelled. Casualties were numerous; progress became very slow, and soon the line was halted until the other brigades should receive their orders to advance. Lying down in the barley, the men maintained constant rifle-fire upon the enemy trenches ahead, and admirable support was given by the Machine-Gun Squadron under Major C. L. Nicholas. Always exposed in the front line, the gunners streamed their fire on to the Turkish parapets; without their support the light horsemen must have been annihilated early in the day. But they were without definite targets, and the Turks, with highly accurate artillery and machine-guns, had all the best of the exchanges.

In actions such as this brigadiers are generally permitted to use their discretion as to how far they will gallop before dismounting for the attack on foot. Obviously the nature of the country is a deciding factor, as the regiments can gallop close up, despite casualties to the horses, if the ground is favourable for subsequent withdrawal, or if there is cover for the animals close to the firing line. On this day the 5th Mounted Brigade, led by a dashing soldier, Brigadier-General P. D. Fitzgerald an Australian-born Imperial officer, galloped deep into the zone of shell-fire. The movement cost the brigade several horses, but very few men were hit; the casualties were certainly lighter than they would have been in marching slowly over the same ground dismounted. But after leaving their horses the yeomanry found the enemy fire too deadly for progress, and were unable to get up and conform with the line of the 9th Light Horse Regiment on their left. Meanwhile the 9th and 10th Regiments had resumed their advance, and were now within 500 yards of the Atawineh trenches. They rushed a small system of enemy works near the Gaza-Beersheba road, and took about seventy prisoners without much loss, but were unable to reach the forward line of the 12th Regiment on their left, while their right flank was exposed because of the check to the yeomanry. Their right was therefore thrown back to join up with the yeomanry. This movement increased the gap between the 3rd and 4th Brigades; the 8th Light Horse Regiment was then sent in to assist Major Cameron's squadron of the 12th in closing it. The local success of Royston's regiments on the Beersheba road drew upon them greatly increased artillery fire, especially from Sausage Ridge on their right, from which the 5th Mounted Brigade was also being heavily bombarded. At 10.30 a.m. the yeomanry occupied a ridge close to the Beersheba road, but had their right bent back to engage Sausage Ridge. Soon afterwards the Wellingtons of the New Zealand Brigade advanced along Sausage Ridge in support of the yeomanry, but were at once, like the rest of the line, pinned down by the sure fire of the enemy. The men of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade had from their line a complete view of the operations towards Gaza, and could see that everywhere the assault had been checked. On their own sector they were hanging on desperately with a force rapidly dwindling under the enemy fire. Among the wounded was Scott, who led the 9th Regiment. Every man who showed himself at once became a target for machine-guns and rifles, and there was no prospect that a charge for the Atawineh Redoubt would be sustained in any strength up the bare slope of 500 yards. They could also see large bodies of Turkish reinforcements coming towards Atawineh from the direction of Beersheba.

All day the enemy's artillery was exceedingly accurate, and it was clear that the gunners had carefully studied the ground and registered their ranges. They picked up the position of the British batteries and led horses with remarkable rapidity, and also made precarious the communications over the exposed ground between the rear and the firing line. Early in the afternoon Hodgson's batteries on the Sheikh Abbas Ridge were advanced so as to give closer support to the men in the line; but the light guns, although they to some extent reduced the small-arms fire of the enemy, produced little or no effect upon his trenches.

At about noon the 5th Mounted Brigade made some slight headway, and the 9th Light Horse Regiment was ordered to bring forward its right again as a preliminary to a general assault on Atawineh. As the squadrons moved they were deluged by fire, and men fell thickly; to save the regiment from complete destruction, it, together with the rest of the 3rd Brigade, was withdrawn for a few hundred yards. On the way back the barrage was incessant. As, however, the Turks made no attempt to leave their trenches, and as the 4th Brigade was still holding to its ground, Hodgson shortly before 2 o'clock again ordered the 3rd forward. Already the regiments had suffered shattering casualties, but upon receiving the order they advanced with the same freshness as had marked their first attack in the morning. Under terrible fire they pressed on to their original position, but there again were arrested and held. While they were struggling forward, the Turks were developing a formidable counter-attack along the whole line from the coast towards the east. This blow, falling upon the right of the 54th Division and the Camel Brigade, forced these troops to give some ground, thereby exposing all Hodgson's division to enfilade fire from the west; the cross-fire from Sausage Ridge on the east also became heavier than at any time earlier in the day.

The exposed 3rd Brigade, however, stood firm, and the spirits of the men were greatly cheered by the timely arrival of the 6th Mounted Brigade-which, having been in reserve, now came forward at the gallop almost to the firing line. Two regiments of this brigade, perhaps the finest body of yeomanry which fought in Palestine, were sent to reinforce the yeomanry of the 5th Brigade; the third went to the support of the 8th Light Horse in the gap between the 3rd and 4th Australian Brigades. At the same time, as the position was now critical, the 263rd Field Artillery Brigade of the 74th Division was ordered up to support Hodgson's line, and Major Daniel came smartly into action. Thus reinforced, Hodgson's artillery concentrated upon the enemy's line at the points where the Turks were being massed for the counter-attack, and, with the assistance of machine-gun and Hotchkiss,' the storm-troops were dispersed and the offensive never developed. But while the British guns were of necessity devoted to the enemy's trenches, his batteries continued to enjoy immunity from fire, and all the afternoon they bombarded Hodgson's men with frontal fire and enfilade from both sides.

So marked was the superiority of the enemy's guns that, while they kept the light horsemen and yeomanry under constant bombardment, they had guns to spare against the British batteries. At one time during the afternoon they concentrated on " B " Battery of the Honourable Artillery Company, commanded by Major the Hon. R. M. P. Preston, which had all day been in close support of the 5th Mounted Brigade, and had fired 1,400 rounds during the action. One gun and two limbers of the battery were quickly knocked out, and the gunners had temporarily to be withdrawn.

The relief given by the 6th Mounted Brigade to the 8th Light Horse Regiment was particularly opportune. The Victorians in the gap between the two brigades had been on the most exposed of all the bare sectors, and were without the protection of even the barley crops. Their losses were heavy. Major A. McAllister, Captain A. E. Wearne, and Lieutenants A. N. Anderson, V. St. J. Maunsell, L. A. W. Macpherson, and G. Fayll were wounded, McAllister and Anderson dying soon afterwards. McAllister, who fell at the head of his squadron, was a veteran of both Anzac and South Africa, and a well-known Australian athlete.

Lieutenant Colonel Maygar, a South African V.C., and always very bold in his personal leadership, rode about the battleground all day Hotchkiss Machine-Guns-one to each troop-in place of the Lewis guns were used for the first time by the light horsemen in this fight and as there had previously been only one Lewis gun to each squadron the fire strength of the regiments was greatly increased by the change. The light horsemen were very pleased with the Hotchkiss but the Camels, who continued to use the Lewis, were equally sure that they possessed the better weapon.
On a grey horse, and was at the time in advance of his firing line. It was a day when true leaders recognised that their men needed inspiration, and Maygar gave it in the finest manner. Major H. J. Shannon, a Victorian farmer, equalled Maygar in his cool and daring leadership. Royston as usual rode where the fire was thickest, and he and Maygar on their horses played an active part in the capture of Turkish outposts within a few hundred yards of the enemy's main line. When the line was temporarily withdrawn at noon Trooper Duguid who was badly wounded, had to be left on the ground; when the men of the 8th again advanced, they found that he had been killed with the bayonet, and stripped of his clothes and boots, by Turkish snipers who had crept forward when the Australians retired. Nearly six months later, when the 3rd Brigade entered Huj in the great drive up the Philistine plain, they found Duguid's paybook in one of the enemy camps.

All day both British and hostile airmen flew low over the battleground, and the Germans in their superior machines freely bombed the horse-lines, batteries, and various headquarters. A bomb, dropped on the headquarters of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade, severely wounded Major C. C. Dangar," the brigade-major. Dangar was a member of a well-known Australian pastoral family in New South Wales, who had for many years held a commission in the 13th Hussars. A capable officer, he served on the general staff with the light horsemen for more than two years, when he was invalided to Australia, and died as the ship reached Melbourne. During the afternoon there developed immediately over the rival lines a fight between a German pilot and a pilot of the British Flying Corps. The airmen manoeuvred for the advantage, and the German, getting on top, dived and missed. Then came the Englishman's turn; but, as he swooped on to the enemy, one of the wings of his machine collapsed, and he fell like a stone. For a moment the British line confused the aeroplanes, and a great cheer sounded when the men thought that the German had been crashed. Then the red, white, and blue rings were seen on the falling plane, with the pilot standing up holding on to one of the struts. He was instantly killed by the fall.

During this day's bitter fighting there were numberless fine instances of individual gallantry. Hour after hour the fearless stretcher-bearers worked in the open with no hope that the enemy could, under such conditions of fighting, respect their humane mission. Captain W. Evans,15 of the 3rd Light Horse Brigade Field Ambulance, worked all day under the fire of the guns, and, assisted only by four men handled no less than 240 wounded. Trooper F. J. Manuell, a Queenslander, was leading forward two horses with Hotchkiss guns, when a shell which pitched immediately in front of him cut one of his feet in two. Manuell kept control of the two terrified, plunging horses, and handed them over before he collapsed. As the line was diminished by casualties, surviving officers picked up the rifles of disabled men, and some of them fired up to 500 rounds. Major P. A. Chambers, of the 12th Light Horse Regiment, was hit in the shoulder, but after having his wound dressed returned to the line, only to be more seriously wounded in the body. Cotter, the international fast bowler, who was afterwards killed at Beersheba, was prominent all day among the stretcher-bearers. On the vital sector before Gaza the 155th Brigade of the 52nd Division, after very heavy losses, gained Outpost Hill, a feature on the El Sire Ridge, at about 10 a.m. But the knoll was scarcely won before it came under an intense bombardment, and the British, reduced to a handful of men, were driven out. While the brigade was organising a fresh attack against the position, Major Forrest of the King's Own Scottish Borderers on his own initiative assembled some men and gallantly re-occupied the hill from the east. He was immediately joined by troops from the 155th Brigade; but every attempt to advance from the hill was shattered as the infantry left the trenches, and in one of these essays Forrest was killed. At 1.30 p.m. the 160th Brigade of the 53rd Division, after many unsuccessful efforts and heavy losses, carried Samson's Ridge. When at z o'clock the enemy counter-attacked along the whole front, he was decisively stopped and suffered the only severe casualties inflicted upon him during the day.

By noon it was clear to Dobell that his prospect of success was slender. Reports from all his divisions were extremely discouraging, and at about 3 o'clock an intercepted wireless message from the Commandant of Gaza to Turkish Headquarters stated that the Gaza garrison was in no need of reinforcement. " Though it was possible it was intended to mislead," said Dobell in his subsequent report upon the day's fighting, " the message added confirmation to the reports sent back by the troops and the aircraft reports, all of which indicated that our attack had not yet succeeded in drawing in the enemy's reserves. In view of this fact, therefore, I considered it to be clear that the opportunity was not yet favourable for an attempt to force a decision by the use of my general reserve. At 5 o'clock the situation was practically unchanged from that of two hours earlier. The enemy still showed no sign of any considerable movement of troops. It was therefore evident that the action could not be brought to a conclusion within the day, and that it would be necessary to consolidate the positions gained and to postpone any further advance until the following day." Adjustments were then made in the advanced line of the infantry brigades, and arrangements vigorously pressed for a resumption of the attack on the following morning. The outlook, however, was anything but promising. The 74th Division was still complete, and Anzac Mounted Division on the right had suffered only slight casualties; but it was plain that, while the infantry might stay on their ground, the line held by the Imperial Mounted Division must be evacuated at nightfall, since it was too weakly occupied to be safe. During the night Dobell, after consultation with his divisional commanders, decided to postpone a resumption of the attack for twenty four hours.

The retirement of the Imperial Mounted Division was to have commenced at dark, but the difficulty presented by the removal of the wounded delayed it till about 8 o'clock. As the Turks made no demonstration, the withdrawal was carried out in good order. But tired though the troops were, no rest was contemplated for them. The fear of a counter-attack on the flank was strong in Dobell's mind. The day's offensive had been an unqualified failure; worse than that, the enemy from his high ground, and with his regiments intact, might by a vigorous blow have turned the British failure into disaster. As Hodgson's men reached their new outpost line-which had its left on Meshrefe, and ran thence through Aseiferiyeh to Hill 310 on the Wadi Sheria-they began at once to ply pick and shovel, and continued digging strenuously through the night. So milch night work had given the troops the eyes of owls. Though this outpost line was taken up in the dark, it was put down exactly on the positions ordered, and only at two points had the siting of the trenches to be altered at daylight.

This was the fourth night on which the light horsemen of the division had been without sleep, yet digging was carried on at high pressure on the 20th until late in the day. In the morning the Turks could be seen reinforcing and improving their trenches; but, although their patrols advanced within rifle-range, the feared counter-attack was not made. On the night of the 19th Hodgson's orders had been to withdraw his shattered regiments if they were seriously attacked.

"The staff that night," said one of the light horse officers, "seemed very jumpy, but our outpost position was a good one, and the men were always quite confident that the Turks could not shift them." After twenty-four hours' hard work by his troopers, Hodgson was satisfied he could hold his ground against any assault the enemy might make.

During this day's engagement the Anzac Mounted Division on the right flank was comparatively inactive. About midnight of the r8-Igth Chauvel, with definite orders not to make a dismounted attack, moved from Shellal to demonstrate against the Hareira Redoubt, and generally to protect the flank of Dobell's forces. The 22nd Mounted Brigade on the right advanced to cross the Wadi about Tel el Fara; the 2nd Light Horse Brigade marched towards Hareira; the 1st Light Horse Brigade moved on Baiket el Sana, while the New Zealanders remained in general reserve near Hill 380, about four miles south-east of Tel el Jemmi. The 1st Brigade, as advance-guard, reached Khurbet Erk at 5 a.m.; an hour later the 1st Regiment pined Baiket el Sam without opposition, and extended its line southwards to the Wadi el Sheria. Granville's men were now about a mile and a half from Hareira Redoubt, and for some hours the enemy resolutely shelled the scattered line, but without causing serious casualties, At 2.30 p.m. Cox relieved the 1st Regiment with the 2nd and 3rd, and extended his line to join up with the 7th Light Horse Regiment, which had pushed three troops under Major Richardson towards Abu Shawish. Unfortunately the 22nd Mounted Brigade (which had advanced from Gamli on the right to link up with the 7th Regiment) appeared to mistake the galloping retirement of the Australian led horses for a general withdrawal, and, evacuating its position, retired across the Ghuzze. This left Richardson with his right flank exposed. Meanwhile the 5th Light Horse Regiment had been digging a line of posts behind the 7th, from Hill 310 (near the junction of the Wadi Khurbet Erk and the Wadi Imleih) towards Shellal on the Ghuzze.

Cox's line thus ran from Hill 340 along the Wadi el Sheria to a point due south of Baiket el Sana, then northward through Baiket el Sana to the right flank of the New Zealanders. Two squadrons of the 2nd Regiment under Bourne occupied the high ground of Baiket el Sana, and the 3rd Regiment under Fulton on their right joined up with the 7th Regiment across the two wadis. Almost simultaneously with the counter-attack of the Turkish infantry from Gaza to Atawineh, the enemy demonstrated strongly against the extreme flank held by Anzac Mounted Division. Infantry (about a regiment strong) massed on the Gaza-Beersheba road about 3,000 yards north-east of Baiket el Sana; at the same time the 3rd Light Horse Regiment came into touch with about 1,000 Turkish cavalry. Some 500 of these were advancing towards Khurbet Erk on the tongue of land between the junction of the Wadi Imleih with the Wadi Sheria, while the remainder, bearing on the same point, approached on the south side of the Imleih. Never bold, the Turkish cavalry, although armed with lances, while the Australians were in the open and without a cavalry weapon, refused a mounted conflict, and, leaving their horses, advanced with the rifle. They were supported by one field-piece and a battery of mountain guns, which they carried forward on pack-horses. Fulton disposed his squadrons dismounted across the two wadis; four Maxims of the brigade machine-gun squadron, under Lieutenant C. W. Harris, were boldly placed in the open on the land between the wadis, where they were reinforced by four Hotchkiss guns. The machine-guns withheld their fire until the Turks offered a fine target at ranges between 500 and 600 yards, when they opened, and immediately began to inflict heavy casualties. This opposition, supported by excellent rifle-shooting from the light horse line, quickly stopped the enemy advance; after hanging on for about an hour the Turks retired, mounted their horses and swung across towards the 7th Regiment on the right.

As soon as the intention of the enemy to attack had become manifest, Cox had ordered forward the Leicester Battery. The guns, admirably handled by Captain Lewis, galloped out on to a patch of plain land near Adrah just as the enemy was launching a general assault from Hareira to Sausage Ridge. A single four gun battery in action among a mass of heavy artillery has a very limited influence; but on a front where the artillery is relatively light its moral effect, even when alone, is remarkable. Opening fire instantly after the teams were halted and removed, Lewis's guns began at once to make effective shooting and caused casualties and considerable confusion in successive waves of Turkish infantry. Nevertheless the enemy maintained his advance until within 400 yards of the thin line of the 2nd Light Horse Regiment on Baiket el Sana. The light horsemen, despite their inferior numbers, then commenced to do very deadly work with their rifles, supported by two machine-guns and eight Hotchkiss guns posted on the ridge. Support was also given by a squadron of the 1st under Major D. W. A. Smith.4G The Turks halted and tried to build up a firing line, to which they brought a number of machine-guns, and for a time the fight at close range was heavy. The Leicester gunners continued to shoot well until they came under concentrated fire from Turkish batteries, when Lewis galloped his battery out, gun by gun, to a position on the wadi just west of Khurbet Erk. There it again opened fire and silenced an enemy battery in the direction of Abu Shawish. After suffering severe casualties, the enemy infantry broke off the engagement and retired. Cox remained on the ground until dark, and then withdrew to Tel el Jemmi to water; the brigade, marching all night, reached bivouac at El Izraa'in shortly before dawn on the 20th. Its casualties were light, but Major A. F. Chambers of the 2nd Regiment was mortally wounded.

Soon after the attack by Turkish cavalry on the 3rd Regiment, the 7th and 5th Regiments had a lively little encounter with the enemy further west. When the Turkish regiment pulled away from its demonstration against the 3rd Regiment, it swung to the left and was joined by a further substantial mounted force, the combined bodies being about a division strong. This cavalry pressed in rapidly towards troops of the 7th Regiment, which were scattered over a long line; and Richardson, following his orders, began to withdraw towards the line of posts prepared by the 5th. The Australians retired very slowly, and with four machine-guns held the host of enemy horse at bay for over an hour. The rattle of machine-guns always had a disturbing effect upon the nerves of Turkish cavalry, and this division allowed three light horse troops to keep it at a standstill just out of range. During the whole campaign the enemy maintained at least a division of cavalry on the Palestine front, but the horsemen never made a resolute attempt to use their lances upon British troops. Indifferently led, and mounted a nondescript lot of ponies which were usually in wretched condition, they served some useful purpose in reconnaissance and patrol-but even at that work they were too timid to be effective. They practised tactics peculiarly their own. In this demonstration they advanced behind a screen of Arab rabble mounted on camels, donkeys, and mares with foals at foot. These were apparently intended for a stalking horse, since the cavalry could be seen in regular formation in their rear. Two armoured cars had come up in support of the 5th Regiment, and the light horsemen suggested to the British officers that they might make a dash at the Turkish horsemen. But earlier in the day two similar cars, venturing towards Atawineh had been hit hard by the enemy's artillery, and the officers decided to wait in the hope that the cavalry would attack. This decision becoming known, a disgusted light horseman temporarily strained Imperial relations by saying to the officer in charge: "If you chaps are not going into action, do you mind me tying my old horse to your car for a while?" The posts of the 5th Regiment were evacuated after nightfall.

All along the line the night of the 19th passed quietly, except for intermittent shelling. As Dobell, at his headquarters at Belah, obtained full particulars of the day's fighting he realised the extent of his failure, his very heavy losses, the consequent weakness of his divisions, and the impossibility of continuing the assault. " During the night," he says in his report, "after further consultation with my divisional commanders, and after fully considering the situation, which was now quite clear, I decided to postpone the offensive without giving a day for the resumption."
The morning of the 20th found the British army with its ambitious attack abandoned. Worse still, there was now danger of a strong counter-attack by the enemy, and the day after the battle was spent in building up the line occupied by the infantry during the operation. But the Turks were content to remain on their ground. All the honours were on their side. Twice assailed at Gaza, they had on March 26th luckily escaped disaster, and, three weeks later, had decisively beaten off the British assault. Among the Turkish leaders there was no further talk of a withdrawal to the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, while the rank and file naturally looked upon the Gaza-Beersheba position as one on which the god of battles favoured their efforts, and on which they could continue to resist all the forces that the British could bring against them. Dobell in his report to Murray placed his casualties at 5,900, made up as follows:-

54th Division - 2,971
52nd Division - 1,365
53rd Division - 584
Camel Brigade - 345
Anzac Mounted Division - 105
Imperial Mounted Division - 547

Such losses in a deliberate offensive which proved a failure of the most absolute kind naturally excited the attention of the Government in London. The circumstances were against Murray and Dobell. The disaster came at a most unfortunate time for England. While the two Gaza fights were in progress, enemy submarines were sinking more Allied ships than at any other time during the war, and the outlook, despite the German retreat from the Somme and the intervention of America, had never appeared so gloomy. Murray's disaster, moreover, had been entirely of his own provoking. The Turks had made no attempt to advance against the British advanced base at El Arish, nor could they have done so with any reasonable chance of success. Murray had always been eager for a great advance into Palestine, and had repeatedly urged upon the War Office the advantages of developing the campaign on strong offensive lines. It had been recognised in London that victory at Gaza would mean an immediate menace to Jerusalem with all the political and religious significance which attached to the probability of the early capture of the Holy City. Cabinet Ministers had turned with special interest to their war maps, had measured the distance from Gaza to the Mount of Olives, and congratulated themselves upon having such aggressive leaders as Murray and Dobell. When the news of the repulse reached London, disappointment was keen; and Ministers naturally recalled both Murray's insistent demand to be allowed to adopt a vigorous offensive towards the north, and the confidence he had entertained before the battle. But the Government, if bitterly disappointed, met the situation with one of the boldest arid most decisive strokes of the war. " Gaza," it was commonly said at Whitehall, during the weeks which succeeded the fight, "appears to be a second Gallipoli." The fact that the strength of the Turkish position was clearly recognised makes the decision taken by the War Cabinet the more commendable. The Government decided not merely to continue the offensive, but to treat the campaign in an entirely fresh spirit, and to apply to it new leadership, greatly increased forces, and an abundance of the materials of war. Major General Dallas, who on the 26th March had commanded the 53rd Division, had relinquished his command before the second Gaza engagement. Soon after April 19th Dobell handed over the command of Eastern Force to Sir Philip Chetwode, and in June Sir Archibald Murray was succeeded by General Allenby. Chauvel succeeded Chetwode as the leader of Desert Column, and thus received the well-earned distinction of being the first Australian soldier to reach the rank of lieutenant general. Chaytor, of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade, followed Chauvel in the leadership of Anzac Mounted Division.

Although Murray did not retire from the command until July, it is perhaps proper here to estimate his work on the front, and to discuss the causes which led to his failure as an army commander on a grand scale. Murray was already a very tired man when he was, early in 1916, appointed to the Egyptian command. As chief of staff to Sir John French in the terrible but glorious opening days of the struggle in France, he had greatly distinguished himself; but he had, like most other prominent staff officers at that time, been overworked and overstrained. In France he disclosed a weakness fatal to many men not only in high military commands, but in all other walks of life; he worried excessively over details which were properly the concern of his subordinates, and dissipated much of his time and strength upon them. This weakness, reappearing in Egypt, made a task already formidable almost impossible of successful achievement. His command in the Near East extended over from the Sudan to Alexandria, and from the Canal to the borders of Tripoli. Until early in 1917 it included control of the British forces at Salonika and, after the intervention of the Arabs, of British participation in the campaign in the Hejaz. In addition, he was responsible for fighting a considerable and always growing army which advanced across Sinai to the edge of Palestine. His task was one far beyond the capacity of the average army commander.

Egypt was at that time in a state of extreme unrest, and " national " and enemy influences were busily fanning the trouble which was to burst into flame soon after the Armistice. The great majority of the Sudanese, thanks to the splendid administrative qualities of its British civil servants during the years which followed Kitchener's decisive campaign, were loyal and tranquil; but in Murray's time a wild section among the tribesmen necessitated the presence of small British forces, which fought a number of sanguinary little engagements. The elusive, thrusting Senussi were only subdued after a prolonged campaign, which, although not marked by great battles, was a heavy and constant drain both on the attention of the Commander-in-Chief and his staff, and upon his very narrow resources in men and supplies. Salonika alone would have been a nightmare to a leader responsible solely for its control. At that time the fighting on the Salonika front was insignificant; but despatches reveal an extraordinary lack of harmony between the French and British interests, and the labour which this threw on Murray was of the most vexatious and wearing nature. Very similar was the position with the Arabs of the Hejaz where the position was extremely delicate, not only because British activities awakened the jealousies of the various Allied Governments, but also because it involved the troublesome problem of Western intervention in the area containing the Moslem holy places, and of its effect upon fanatical religious susceptibilities.

Such was Murray's vast, complicated, and delicate task. What was his achievement? When the fate of an Empire is at issue, leaders of great armies in the field are tried before a popular tribunal which is rude in its justice and passionate in its decision. Success is extravagantly rewarded with applause, honours, and wealth; failure is swiftly followed by an ill-considered mob-verdict of disgrace and even execration. In the mind of the multitude Sir Archibald Murray is one of the war's tragic failures; but any impartial consideration of his task and his achievement will decide that, if he failed in his ambitious scheme for the invasion of Palestine, he otherwise justified his appointment to great command and did well for the Empire he served. During the eighteen months in which he held the Egyptian command, Murray subdued the troublesome Senussi and gave peace to the Sudan; handled the difficult Hejaz Arabs with conspicuous skill, and brought them into the war; and, with admirable tact, clever diplomacy, and constant firmness, maintained order in Egypt against innumerable seditious agencies which were working for revolt. He did all that a man unfortunately placed as he was could do with the muddle at Salonika. But all these activities, burdensome as they were, and involving negotiation and campaigns with many foreign and sometimes savage peoples, were subsidiary to his main task of guarding the Canal and Egypt against the Turk and afterwards carrying war into Palestine. In these missions he accomplished much; had fortune been a little kinder, he might have guided the campaign through to the triumphant conclusion attained by his great successor. Murray's work not only made Egypt absolutely safe from invasion, but made easy the conquest of Palestine. He was the pioneer-and he reaped the harvest which is so often the pioneer's bitter reward.

Starting with a totally inadequate force, he cleared Sinai of the enemy and shattered the Turkish offensive against Egypt. Opposed and harassed by the British Government, and always short of men, munitions, and engineering supplies, he laid the railway and the pipe-line across the desert to the sound, watered country of southern Palestine, and pushed his army up to the very gates of the Promised Land. The magnitude of his work in the conquest of the Sinai desert can be gauged from the statement that, by the end of February, 1917, he had laid down 388 miles of railway, 300 miles of water piping, 203 miles of metalled road, 86 miles of wire and brushwood road, while 960,000 tons of stone had been won from distant quarries. His large ambition, his fine sense of the strategy of the war as a whole, and his strong persistence, ultimately won the War Cabinet to his view that Palestine should be invaded. Then came his tragic failure at Gaza. The order to withdraw the cordon from Gaza at nightfall on March 26th was unfortunate; but seldom has such an error been attended by results so significant and far-reaching. In warfare there is occasionally a feather-edge between brilliant success and disastrous failure. Had Gaza been taken, and had the Turks withdrawn, as was probable, to the Jaffa-Jerusalem line, Murray would probably have received from a grateful Government that generous support which was afterwards given to Allenby; and had Philip Chetwode and not Dobell commanded Eastern Force on that day, the attempt against the town would probably have succeeded.

Sir Archibald failed mainly because Dobell, who was leading his Palestine army, was equipped neither by experience nor by temperament for an important command against a European force. There is something fine about Dobell's boundless confidence in his capacity to crush his foe at all hours and on any ground. But battles against Europeans are not won by the mere exercise of boundless confidence. Dobell was not the only British leader who, having achieved success against native troops in petty wars, had made such mistakes as he made in Palestine.

The two engagements before Gaza had a profound effect upon the character of the campaign. Hitherto the fighting had been of the old-fashioned, open kind. The British after Romani had steadily advanced in pursuit of an elusive foe, who was apparently undecided as to his plans, and who perhaps believed that Murray's offensive would cease when he had made Egypt safe by the clearing of Sinai. The scattered disposition of the Turkish force before March 26th seemed to indicate that, although its leaders had prepared strong positions on the Gaza-Beersheba line, they were still in doubt as to whether they would occupy it in strength and make a definite stand there. By March the Turks had carried their railway down the Philistine plain, and even extended it into Sinai a few miles south of Kossaima, on the fringes of Sinai; their communications were thereby greatly improved. But that railway was only a single narrow-gauge line. The rolling-stock was scanty, old, and faulty. The enemy was without coal for his engines, and was already ruthlessly destroying the rare remaining plantations of olive-trees which stood around Gaza and at other places here and there in the Holy Land. His fear of offending the Arabs prevented him from living upon the resources of the country, and in any case the local supplies of Palestine were then extremely limited. The enemy, therefore, could have had no great liking for the prospect of supporting a large army over a prolonged period between Gaza and Beersheba. Probably, too, he had an exaggerated sense of the strength of the army which Murray was bringing out of the desert against him.

But the two Gaza battles were as stimulating to the Turks as they were mortifying to the British. Both Turkish and German leaders recognised that, if they could check and even shatter the attack of Murray's divisions between Gaza and Beersheba when their defences were in a very primitive stage of preparation, they might reasonably expect to hold that position indefinitely after the earthworks had been completed. There was no more talk of withdrawal; on the contrary, their happy, elated battalions laid aside their rifles and, taking pick and shovel, worked strenuously to make the position impregnable. Simultaneously on the British side Murray's dispirited men, urged on by commanders fearful of a Turkish counterattack, laboured to make their line secure.

Each army held good defensive ground. Each was confident of its capacity to fling back an assault. By the end of April the campaign had reached a stalemate. The conflict had become a stagnating affair of rival trenches, as it had been upon Gallipoli and was now in France. Until one side or the other brought forward a powerful addition to its strength, the position was not likely to change.

 

 

Further Reading:

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917

The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920

 


Citation: The Second Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 19 April 1917, Gullett Account Part 2

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Wednesday, 2 March 2011 8:51 PM EAST

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