Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915
Suez Canal Attack
Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915
Official British History Account, Pt 3
The following is an extract from:
MacMunn, G., and Falls, C., Military Operations Egypt & Palestine - From the Outbreak of War with Germany to June 1917, London, 1928, pp. 25 - 28.
SYRIA AND SINAI
The terms "Syria" and "Palestine," the former of which included the latter, were prior to the post-war settlements vague in meaning. Syria was generally taken to mean the strip of fertile country on the Mediterranean shore from the Cilician Gates to the Egyptian frontier at Rafah; Palestine, "from Dan to Beersheba," extended from the neighbourhood of Tyre to the same frontier. Neither term corresponded to the political divisions of Turkey, the occupying Power. These divisions were the Sanjaks [The Turkish administrative area known as the vilayet may be taken to correspond to the French " department" ; its subdivision, the sanjak, to the " arrondissement."] of Adana and Jebel-i-Bereket (from the Adana Vilayet) and the Sanjak of Aleppo (from the Aleppo Vilayet), these three including the country from near Tarsus to just north of Alexandretta; the Vilayet of Beirut, from Alexandretta to north of Jaffa; the Vilayet of Damascus, including the country east of Lebanon and the Jordan, from Hama in the north to Aqaba in the south; and the independent Sanjak of Jerusalem, from north of Jaffa to the Egyptian frontier and east to the Dead Sea. The province of the Lebanon had a special administration from Constantinople, created to put an end to the blood-feuds of its inhabitants: Druses, Maronites, Christians and Turks.
When Turkey declared war the Fourth Army, with headquarters at Damascus, consisted of some 60,000 troops with 100 guns, comprising the VI Corps in the north with headquarters at Adana and the VIII Corps in the south with headquarters at Damascus. The Turkish Army had been mobilized since the 2nd August. It was expected to be formidable, as Turkish troops have always been, but it had not fully recovered from the demoralization and disorganization consequent on the Balkan and Tripolitan Wars. This applied particularly to formations distant from the capital and so less under the influence of the German Military Mission than those in Turkey proper.
The railway communications with Turkey were unsuited to warfare on a large scale, but capable of carrying and supplying as many troops as could be transported over the hundred miles of desert between the Egyptian frontier and the Suez Canal. From Haidar Pasha Station at Scutari, opposite Constantinople, to Rayak on the Litany River, 25 miles north-west of Damascus, the line was the single track standard gauge of the Anatolian-Baghdad Railway; its value greatly lessened by the gaps already mentioned.
At these gaps twenty tunnels were uncompleted, the break in the Taurus being 20 miles in length and that of the plan. Amanus, at the Bagche Tunnel, 5 miles long. Though work was being pushed on, these gaps were not covered by rail for a considerable time to come, but had to be bridged by motor and animal transport of all kinds. [The Amanus gap was covered early in 1917, the Taurus tunnels pierced for a light railway about the same time, but the first through train from Haidar Pasha Station to Rayak (about 900 miles) did not run till September 1918.] As far as Muslimie, north of Aleppo, this line had also to bear the traffic for the Turkish forces in Mesopotamia.
At Rayak the standard gauge ceased and a 1.05 metre gauge line ran through Damascus to Deraa, 50 miles south of that city. Here it bifurcated, running south to the Hejaz and west to Haifa. There was also a branch running from Rayak over the Lebanon to the sea at Beirut. From Affule, south-east of Haifa, a branch to Jerusalem via Nablus had been begun, which the Turks diverted and began to extend southwards along the Plain of Sharon after the commencement of hostilities. The Jerusalem-Jaffa line, belonging to a French company, was unconnected with this system and of a slightly different gauge (1 metre). Apart from the demerits of this railway system where the feeding of large armies was concerned, the patrolling of the coast by the Navies of Britain and France prevented the arrival of coal by sea. There were no local mines of any value and, as may be imagined, but little coal could be sent across the Taurus and Amanus. Supplies from two large colliers which were in the port of Haifa at the outbreak of war provided coal for the transportation of the troops employed in the attack on the Suez Canal to railhead, then a short distance south of Nablus. Thereafter the Turks were forced to fall back upon wood-fuel for their engines.
The problem before Sir J. Maxwell was, however, concerned less with the numbers of troops of which Turkey could dispose in Syria or with the quality of her railway communications from Constantinople than with her power to cross the desert between the frontier and the Suez Canal.
The Sinai Peninsula, mountainous in its southern half, sand desert in its northern, was crossed by no modern communications. Even the “Way of the Philistines," along the Mediterranean shore, was no more than a camel track. This track ran from El Qantara (the bridge: formerly the crossing of the old Pelusiac branch of the Nile) through Romani, Qatiya and El Arish to Gaza, within the Turkish frontier.
It was watered by occasional oases, with brackish wells, more frequent as it approached Egypt, and threaded its way through areas alternating in shifting sand-dunes and a firmer surface of flint and pebble. The other principal track ran via Nekhl, from Suez to Aqaba; and at Nekhl alone, an Egyptian military and civil post, was there any appreciable water supply. Between these two routes was a third but difficult one, even less well watered, through Jifjaffa, to the Canal at Ismailia. How many troops could be brought across and at what season? What route would they follow?
In a War Office estimate made in 1906 it had been, suggested that 5,000 men and 2,000 camels represented the largest possible force. The whole question, in fact, depended upon the water-supply, which was not constant. Apart from the wells, there were here and there stone cisterns, remnants of a bygone civilization, in which winter rainwater was collected by the Bedouin. After these rains also considerable pools often existed for short periods, during which there was no reason why much larger numbers than those suggested should not subsist in Sinai. It befel that, though for several years there had been little rain in Sinai, in the winter of 1914 there were some heavy storms. This unusually great supply of water made practicable the central Sinai route for considerable numbers of troops.