Topic: BatzS - El Qatiya
Sinai, 23 April 1916
Falls Account, The Advance into Sinai
As part of the Official British War History of the Great War, Captain Cyril Falls and Lieutenant General George MacMunn were commissioned to produce a commentary on the Sinai, Palestine and Syrian operations that took place. In 1928, their finished work, Military Operations, Egypt and Palestine - From the outbreak of war with Germany to June 1917, was published in London. Their book included a section specifically related to the battle of Romani and is extracted below.
MacMunn, G. & Falls, C., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1930), pp. 159 - 162:
The Advance into Sinai.
Until the middle of February the troops were fully engaged in reorganization, training, and work upon the Canal Defences, in the making of roads and laying of light railways and pipe-lines, without which these defences could not be occupied. Reconnaissances by the Royal Flying Corps and the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service (a squadron of which now succeeded the French seaplane detachment at Port Said - The "East Indies and Egypt Seaplane Squadron" was formed in late January 1916, and consisted of British seaplanes which had been employed in the Gallipoli campaign and of the French seaplane detachment. There is no record of the precise date at which the French detachment was withdrawn from Egypt, but its last reported flight took place on the 16th April. Squadron Commander C. L'Estrange Malone was the first commander of the East Indies Squadron, Commander C. R. Sampson, R.N., taking over command in May 1916. The seaplane carriers at the disposal of the squadron were the Ben-my-Chree, Anne, Raven, and Empress, but the last named was sent to Mudros in May. The depot included a training base for observers, who were supplied by the Army, and an intelligence report centre. The squadron carried out remarkable work in reconnaissance, photography, and bombing along the Syrian coast throughout 1916 and 1917, and was also employed in the Red Sea and at Aden. An interesting account of its activities is to be found in "In the Side Shows" by Captain Wedgwood Benn (Holder and Stoughton).)" established the fact that there were no considerable Turkish forces in Sinai and no signs of a concentration in Southern Palestine for an attack on Egypt. During the latter half of the month the XV Corps pushed its mounted patrols out 20 miles, to Bir en Nuss and Hod Umm Ugba, finding this area clear of the enemy and practically deserted by the Bedouin. From Tor, at the southern end of Sinai, which was garrisoned by the 2nd Battalion Egyptian Army and had come under General Murray's control by arrangement with General Maxwell, a reconnaissance was carried out, and a small force of the enemy - chiefly Bedouin with a few Turkish officers - ejected from a camp established several miles inland. In No. 2 (the Central) Section a force about a squadron strong of the 8th and 9th Australian Light Horse and a detachment of Bikanir Camel Corps carried out between the 11th and 15th April a raid to Jifjafa, [See: Jifjafa] a distance of 52 miles, captured an Austrian engineer officer and 33 men, and destroyed a well-boring plant which had been at work for five months. At the same time the IX Corps in the Southern Section reconnoitred 30 miles to Bir el Giddi and the tracks leading east there from.
Meanwhile the standard-gauge line from Qantara towards Qatiya had been begun. On the 10th March the first shipload of rails and sleepers arrived at Qantara, and in four weeks 16 miles, including sidings, were laid. The line followed the caravan track for 5 miles and was then to make a sweep north to avoid the large and shifting sand dunes of Romani, curving back to the caravan route near the 0ghratina oasis, 5 miles east of Qatiya. A subsidiary 2 ft. 6 in. line was also begun from Port Said along the shore, April.
The railway having passed through the advanced line of the Canal Defences, it became necessary to establish permanent posts ahead of it in the Qatiya Oasis to protect it from attack by the enemy and to ensure the Egyptian labourers against interference from armed Bedouin. On the 6th April, Br.-General E. A. Wiggin, 5th Mounted Brigade (the mounted troops in the XV Corps Section), was appointed to the command of the Qatiya district, and made responsible to Lieut.-General Horne. Three days afterwards the latter was recalled to a command in France and succeeded by Major-General the Hon. H. Lawrence, hitherto commanding the 52nd Division. The XV Corps Headquarters was broken up and General Lawrence was given a reduced corps staff, known as Headquarters No. 3 Section.
On the 9th April a squadron of the Worcester Yeomanry found the Turks in some strength at Bir el Abd, 15 miles east of Qatiya. By the third week of the month the whole of the 5th Mounted Brigade was disposed to cover the railway:
Headquarters and Gloucester Hussars at Romani,
Worcester Yeomanry at Qatiya,
Warwick Yeomanry (less one squadron on the Canal) at Bir el Hamisah, 3 miles south of Qatiya.
The 2/2nd Lowland Field Company, R.E., 52nd Division, was attached to the brigade for the development of wells.
The brigade had no artillery, the ground being soft sand over which wheels could scarcely move and the water supply for horses still far from plentiful. On the 21st and 22nd two squadrons (less one troop) Worcester Yeomanry with a detachment (4 officers and 60 other ranks) of the Field Company were pushed out to the Oasis of Oghratina, and replaced in Qatiya by a squadron of Gloucester Hussars until the arrival of the 5th Australian Light Horse. This regiment had been ordered to reinforce General Wiggin, in view of signs of renewed activity on the part of the enemy, an outpost of the Warwick Yeomanry from Bir el Hamisah having been attacked by Turkish or Bedouin cavalry before dawn on the 19th and having had its horses stampeded. The Light Horse was due to arrive at Qatiya on the 24th.
Thirteen miles S.S.W. of Qatiya, on the track from Qantara, the small oasis of Dueidar was held by 120 rifles 5th Royal Scots Fusiliers, a few Yeomanry and men of the Bikanir Camel Corps, 156 rifles in all. Five miles behind this post, at Hill 70 in the advanced line of the Canal Defences, was the 4th Royal Scots Fusiliers, of the 52nd (Lowland) Division, which was holding this portion of the front. Railhead was on the 21st near El Arais and 4 miles west of Romani, so that the time had come when Qatiya could be held in greater strength and more easily supplied. At the very moment when this reinforcement was about to take place, the enemy struck a blow which for combined speed, skill, daring, and success is hardly to be matched in the records of the campaign.
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Citation: el Qatiya, Sinai, 23 April 1916, Falls Account, The Advance into Sinai