Topic: BatzS - El Qatiya
Sinai, 23 April 1916
Falls Account, Sir A. Murray's Appreciation
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. 170 - 174:
Sir A. Murray's Appreciation
The Chief of The Imperial General Staff.
15th February 1916.
1. It is clear that the security of Egypt against an attack from the east is not best assured by the construction of a great defensive position in proximity to the Suez Canal-among other reasons because such a position is wasteful in men and material. In order to effect the object aimed at, it would be far preferable to push out across the Sinai Peninsula cowards the Egyptian frontier, making dispositions for an active defence. Less troops will actually be required for an active defence than for a passive or semi-passive defence of the Canal Zone.
2. In the Sinai Peninsula itself there are four chief points of importance, namely, El Arish, El Hassana, Nekhl, and El Kossaima. The three latter are important road centres--the course of the roads in Sinai being determined by water supply-which any hostile invading force, except one marching y the northern coast road and El Arish, must pass on its way to Egypt. Of the three, El Kossaima is of greater importance than either of the others, for enemy forces, moving down from Syria and Palestine must pass El Kossaima or between El Kossaima and the northern Sina Coast, whether the subsequent line of march is via Nekhl or El Kossaima. [Sic. It would appear that "via Nekhl or El Hassana" is meant.]
3. Strategically, therefore, the true base of the defensive zone of Egypt against invasion from the east is not the 80 or 90 miles of the Canal Zone, hut the 45 miles between El Arish and El Kossaima.
1. The first factor which it is necessary to weigh is the extent and magnitude of the danger implied in the word "invasion." At present, and during the early spring, it would be possible for the enemy, given adequate arrangements on the Syrian railways, to bring down to Beersheba and to push across the Sinai desert a very considerable force, say, 250,000 men. The water difficulties which would confront him during this season would be reduced to a minimum, and with sufficient previous preparation his other difficulties could be surmounted. We have, however, so far, no definite information of an enemy movement on a really large scale in this direction. Our intelligence does indeed tend to show that the Turks themselves are anxious to undertake the invasion of Egypt, but it also tends to show that their German military advisers in Turkey are averse at the moment to this undertaking. The time at their disposal is already becoming short, even if it be assumed that they have two months for the completion of their preparations and for the inception and achievement of their undertaking. The forces at our disposal for the defence of Egypt are now considerable, and so long as they remain in this country the enemy can have little hope of a successful issue to his enterprise.
2. When once the hot weather begins, the enemy's difficulties will necessarily be largely increased. Heat of itself is no bar to operations; but both men and animals require considerably more water during the hot weather, and the supply of water along the roads which cross the Sinai Peninsula is naturally far more difficult during that period. In the hot weather the enemy will be confined to the existing wells or to carrying the water required by his troops.
3. At El Arish it is estimated that a force of 40,000 to 50,000 troops could be concentrated without experiencing any great difficulty in obtaining water even during the hot season.
It may be noted here that if El Arish were in our occupation we should be in a comparatively advantageous position with regard to water, since the water-bearing area lies comparatively close to the sea and within range of naval gunfire. An enemy attack on El Arish would, on the other hand, be hampered by water difficulties, since it appears that he would mainly have to depend on water supply from the south of Magdhaba (20 miles S.S.E, of El Arish) and from Rafah (28 miles E.N.E, of El Arish). It is estimated that it is possible for the enemy to bring up 60,000 men to attack, but he would fight with a comparatively waterless country immediately in rear of him.
If El Arish is not in our possession and the Qatiya district is, the hostile forces advancing from El Arish to, say, Bir El Abd, would be obliged to cross a region of 30 or 40 miles with a very indifferent water supply and to fight with this behind them. The difficulties of the road are also considerable, and it is estimated that the Turks could not bring a larger force than 25,000 men to attack at Bir El Abd after early spring.
If we occupy neither El Arish nor Qatiya it is possible that the enemy might gradually collect troops in the latter district, and with good arrange_ ments and care it is considered that 80,000 men is not an excessive estimate of the number for whom it would be possible to find sufficient water, even in the hot weather.
4. On the central road via El Hassana the water supply is very limited. The enemy has been laying a pipe-line from Kossaima towards El Hassana, but the difficulties are apparently very great and it seems doubtful if the prolongation of the pipe-line westwards-certainly beyond El Hassanais possible; and even so, El Hassana is about 90 miles from the Canal. A hostile advance on this line in spring or summer would, therefore, appear impracticable for a force of any size.
On the southern roads from Nekhl, where perhaps 20,000 men could be concentrated, there is an almost waterless stretch of 40 miles between Nekhl and Ain Sadr, and a second waterless stretch, also of 40 miles, between Ain Sadr and the Suez Canal, necessitating the carrying of water for an invading force over, say, three stages. [Ain Sadr, or Ain Sudr, halfway between Nekhl and Suez, is just south of the southern limit of Map 8.] The roads are also in bad order at present, and pass through defiles which would render water transport difficulties very great. It is estimated that these roads could hardly be used in the hot weather by any forces exceeding 10,000 men.
5. To summarize, therefore, the enemy is working upon a very narrow margin of time if he contemplates any really serious efforts during the next six or eight weeks. The fact that the present season has been unusually wet may, indeed, increase this margin, since his difficulties as regards water may perhaps not become serious so early in the year as usual. During the hot season, however, providing that the Qatiya district be occupied by us, the limit of the possibility in this way of an invasion from the east would seem to be an advance of, say, 40,000 troops, with their transport, if the enemy should use all available roads.
1. In the first part of this paper, stress has been laid upon the strategic importance of El Arish. In the second part, the factors limiting the enemy's power to strike have been briefly considered.
In any case the enemy's first step must be to collect his forces, either towards Beersheba, or further south, say about Ma'an, on the Hejaz railway. The latter is not considered a very likely contingency, since the Pilgrim road from Ma'an, to Nekhl is very difficult for wheeled traffic, while the roads from Nekhl to the Canal, as has already been stated, are in bad order, cross a difficult country with little water, and during the hot season milt hardly admit of the passage of any large force.
If, however, the enemy concentration should take place in the Beersheba region, his main forces must advance to the invasion of Egypt by way of El Kossaima and El Arish, or between those places.
2. From the point of view of the permanent security of Egypt, therefore, it is highly desirable that El Arish should be occupied by us with mobile forces of sufficient size:
(a) To be able to meet and oppose such enemy forces as might attempt to march against Egypt by the northern coast road.
(b) To be able to attack in flank any enemy forces attempting to move against Egypt by way of the central or southern roads which cross the Sinai Peninsula, diverging from El Kossaima.
(c) To be able to undertake rapid offensive operations against enemy concentrations, or the heads of enemy columns, in southern Palestine (Beersheba region).
If El Arish could be held, the permanent occupation of other points in the Sinai Peninsula outside the Canal Zone would appear to be unnecessary, unless the concentration about Ma'an should necessitate reconsideration of the desirability of occupying Nekhl.
3. The importance of El Arish emerges more and more clearly the further the problem is considered. To undertake its occupation immediately insufficient strength is, however, out of the question. It would be necessary to employ a considerable number of troops, and sufficient camel transport is not yet available to maintain a force of the required size at a distance of seven marches from the Canal. The question of the possibility of supplying the force from the sea from a depot within, or near the eastern end of, the Bardawil Lagoon, has been fully gone into with the Navy; and it has been found that the formation of the coast would render this impracticable.
4. In these circumstances it appears certain that it will be necessary to build a railway for the maintenance of any considerable force pushed out across the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula. Our reliance on the railway, yet to be constructed, necessarily limits the possibilities to a gradual forward movement.
5. The first step seems to be clear, namely an advance to a suitable position east of Qatiya and the construction of a railway to that place. Even apart from the question of El Arish, the occupation of the Qatiya district is most necessary. By pushing out to the neighbourhood of Bir El Abd, east of Qatiya, we should deny this comparatively well-watered region to the enemy. So long as we do not occupy Qatiya it is open to the enemy gradually to concentrate a considerable force within two marches of the Canal; and his force would be limited only by the amount of water obtainable, which is estimated to be sufficient for as many as 80,000 troops, even in summer.
6. Preparations for this preliminary movement are now, therefore, being actively pressed on. The question of the construction of the necessary railway has already been taken up, and it is anticipated that sufficient camels will be available to equip a force of one Division and one Mounted Brigade with camel transport very shortly. A force of the size named is considered sufficient to clear and occupy the Qatiya district and to hold the eastern end of it, with a reserve at Qantara. Once occupied, a Turkish attack on the line of the northern coast road could only be made in very difficult circumstances. As has already been pointed out, the enemy would have to deliver his attack with a 40-mile desert zone, and with bad roads on the line of which the water supply is very indifferent, behind him.
7. Finally, the question arises as to what number of troops it is necessary for us to maintain in Egypt for the defence from the east. At present, and until the hot weather begins, i.e., about 15th April, no very material reduction in the strength of our forces actually in the country is deemed advisable. From the beginning of the hot season, however, it would appear that one Army Corps of three Divisions on the Canal would be sufficient, provided that we held the Qatiya district with one additional Division, and that three Mounted Brigades were available for all purposes. As the extent of front to be watched and patrolled is extensive, it is necessary that units should be at full war strength, otherwise four Divisions will not be sufficient. It must be remembered that day and night the whole 80-mile length of the Canal has to be carefully watched to prevent the enemy placing mines in the Canal or Bitter Lakes, which feat has already been accomplished, and that every ship and boat passing up and down has to have its guard for the same purpose.
If the reoccupation of El Arish should eventually be practicable, it is considered that, besides an Army Corps and two Mounted Brigades in the Canal Zone, two mobile Divisions and two Mounted Brigades would be needed to undertake an effective offensive-defence from El Arish and to occupy that place. This would involve the retention in Egypt of a fifth Division ; but against the disadvantage of increasing the size of the force left in Egypt must be set the fact that a sufficient mobile force operating from El Arish should go far to render the defence of Egypt from the east permanently secure, irrespective of seasons.
A. J. MURRAY,
General, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Expeditionary Force.
Citation: el Qatiya, Sinai, 23 April 1916, Falls Account, Sir A. Murray's Appreciation