Topic: AIF - DMC - British
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division Report on the attack on the Ali Muntar position
53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division Report on the attack on the Ali Muntar position.
The following is a transcription of Report on the attack on the Ali Muntar position from the War Diary of the 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Division detailing their role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
53rd Division Report on the attack on the Ali Muntar position
Report on the attack on the Ali Muntar position, Gaza, by the 53rd Division and attached troops, and on the operation of the 25th, 26th, 27th and 28th March 1917.
In accordance with instructions received from the General Officer Commanding, Desert Column, that the Wadi Ghuzze should be crossed at daylight and Bridgehead established for the passage of the 53rd Division, I arranged to march from Deir el BELAH to that end. With the permission of the Desert Column Commander however, the march was timed so that the GHUZZE should be crossed at 3.30 a.m. and the Bridgehead established about El Sire and El Addah by daylight. This was successfully done by the troops and both those points were in my possession by daylight.
In addition to the main Column just referred to, a detachment consisting of half a Squadron of the Duke of Lancasters own Yeomanry was sent across the Ghuzze at the same hour on the main GAZA - RAFA road to clear the Gardens at the crossing and holding the high ground immediately North East as a point of observation during the operations. with this detachment of yeomanry a Section of the 91st Heavy Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, was attached, for counter Battery work with Aircraft, throughout the operations.
A further detachment crossed the Ghuzze at the same time near Tel el Ajjul and established itself on the high ground about the "CAVES". This detachment consisted of the 2/4th Royal West Kent Regiment, the Gloucester Yeomanry and "A" Section 15th Heavy Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, the whole under the command of Lieut. Colonel N. Money, D.S.O, 2/4th Royal West Kent Regiment. The Infantry portion of this detachment only, crossed before daylight, the guns and Cavalry following as soon as it was sufficiently light. The role of this detachment, which it successfully carried out, was to cover the Left of the 53rd Division attack and to demonstrate against the Turkish position about Sheikh Ahmed and between there and GAZA town, with a view of holding the enemy to his positions and preventing his from reinforcing his Left on the Ali Muntar ridge.
At daybreak there was a dense fog which lasted nearly two hours and the advance of the Division was delayed as I did not deem it wise to allow the troops to push up to their first objective, the line El Shelufa - Mansura, until the country in front could be clearly seen and Artillery support arranged for. When the fog lifted the advance was resumed - the 160th Brigade by the El Sire - El Shelufa Ridge and the remainder of the Division, 158th Brigade leading, along the El Adah, El Burjalihe, Tel El Ahmar, Mansura Ridge. When the first objective viz: El Sheluf - Mansura had been reached, Infantry Brigadiers and the Commander Royal Artillery met me at Mansura to settle the method of attack.
In full confidence that the Desert Column Commander would protect my rear and give a sufficient warning to enable me to withdraw from the attack if necessary, could he not hold up any enemy reinforcements which might come from the east and north east, I issued orders as follows:160th Brigade to attack along the El Sheluf - Ali Muntar Ridge. Objective, works at the South western edge of the enemy's defences.
158th Brigade to move North east about El Namus and form to the left for attack. Objective, the prominent Ali Muntar HILL on which there is a Mosque.
159th Brigade, less one Battalion in Divisional Reserve, was ordered to march just east of El Namus up to Meidan abu Zeid also forming to the left and to attack the prominent hill 1,200 yards north east of Ali Muntar, in cooperation with the attack of the 158th Brigade.
I was acquainted beforehand with the Intention of the Desert Column Commander, viz: that owing to the fact that the Cavalry would probably have to withdraw to the Wadi Ghuzze before dark for water, the whole operation of the capture of Gaza must be completed within one day.
All my plans were made throughout the day with this object in view.
In so far as the 53rd Division was concerned, the role of the Cavalry was to encircle Gaza on the east and North and to prevent any hostile attack from the east falling on my rear while attacking Gaza.
It is also necessary to add that I was aware that my right rear would be protected by the 54th Division which was to come up during the day into position at Sheikh Abbas. This movement was successfully accomplished.
It was obvious that a prolonged reconnaissance and a carefully prepared action could not be given effect to, but Artillery co-operation was arranged on the following lines:
The 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was established in a suitable position in the broken ground on Mansura to support the attack of the 158th and 159th Infantry Brigades.
The 265th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was brought into position between El Sire and the Wadi Ghuzze on the eastern slopes of the El Sheluf Ridge to support, the attack of the 160th Brigade and to enfilade the enemy's position about Ali Muntar.
As an additional support to the Division's attack and also in order to make the enemy's position about Ali el Muntar, "A" Section of the 10th Heavy Buttery, Royal Field Artillery, was brought up into action South of El Sire.
A Forward Observation Officer was sent forward from each battery with the infantry attack.
The deployment of the 160th and 158th Brigades commenced at 11.50. Shortly after this the 159th Brigade which had been in reserve, was nearing Mansura and I sent it forward to its assigned position whence it could move on its objective.
I had been previously informed that, should I require it, an Infantry Brigade of the 54th Division with a Brigade of Artillery, and a Field Company Royal Engineers, and a Field Ambulance, would be placed at my disposal.
At 10.04 I telegraphed to Desert Column and to the 54th Division asking for the position of this Brigade Group as I was not certain of the enemy's strength. I also requested that it might be sent to Mansura.
At 10.35 I received a telegram from Desert Column to inform me that the Brigade of the 54th Division on which I might call was at Sheikh Nebhan and directing me to get in touch with it.
On receipt of this information I sent a despatch to the Brigade, instructing Brigadier General Dodington to bring it to Mansura. The messenger failed to locate it and returned later to report the fact, the reason being that the Brigade was at the south eastern end of El Sire Ridge and was located there by an officer of my staff about midday.
This accounts for this brigade group not having been employed till somewhat late in the afternoon.
The Infantry Brigade in question, the 161st, had assembled at Mansura about 1530 and proved of great value. It was, however, preceded by its attached Artillery Brigade, the 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery which I ordered forward in support of the 159th Brigade, thus leaving the 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, free to engage the front being attacked by the 158th Infantry Brigade. This was about 1500.
On the arrival of the 161st Infantry Brigade I sent on the fourth battalion of the 159th Brigade to rejoin its own formation, as Brigadier General Travers reported his right as being very exposed.
In co-operation with Artillery fire and long range Machine Gun fire the 160th Brigade pressed forward along the ridge and the 158th and 159th Brigades over the flat open terrain practically devoid of cover. Their advance was very steady and they behaved in magnificent way. The enemy offered a very stout resistance both with rifle and Machine Gun fire and the advancing troops during the approach march, the deployment and attack, were subjected to a heavy shrapnel fire.
By about 1630 it became evident that parts of the position had fallen into our hands. Later on reports wore received that the Mosque Hill of Ali el Muntar, the "Labyrinth" and ground in the immediate neighbourhood were in our possession.
Under cover of the Artillery support of the 271st Artillery Brigade from North east of El Namus the 159th Brigade pressed steadily forward the men frequently doubling towards the enemy in a most determined way and were at last seen in possession of his defences at this point.
On the left of the 158th Infantry Brigade, which Brigade had attacked with great steadiness and courage, had been unable to gain an entry into the trenches South of Ali el Muntar Mosque owing to heavy Maxim Gun and rifle fire directed on its flank from the "Green Hill".
This, and the Southern side of Al el Muntar Hill first referred to, were the only portions of objective still remaining in the enemy's hands at about 17.00.
It was necessary to capture it at once, since as previously mentioned, it enfiladed the Left of the 158th Brigade and prevented the portion of the troops of that Brigade from taking the enemy's trenches between it and the Mosque HILL. I called on Brigadier General Doddington to attack it with the 161st Brigade. His Brigade made the attack with two battalions, with a third in Brigade reserve. The fourth battalion was kept in Divisional Reserve. This Brigade soon closed on its objective. The enemy's fire was heavy and the troops were held up for a time. Artillery fire of the 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was, however, brought to bear on the hill, under cover of which the attack was resumed and the position secured.
It should be mentioned that on two occasions in the action one Brigade of Artillery was perforce obliged to support two Infantry Brigades - namely on the occasion just mentioned, and previously in the initial stages when the 266th Brigade Royal Field Artillery, was engaging the objectives of both the 158th and 159th Infantry Brigades.
The want of a third Artillery Brigade was made very evident, and it is impossible under the present Camel Establishment organisation to give the best support to three infantry Brigades with two Artillery Brigades should all three Infantry Brigades be engaged.
The whole objective allotted to the Division and attached troops was therefore in our hands just before darkness came on. Heavy fire was continuing between our troops on the ridge and the enemy in the Gardens below them, on the spurs, and in the town.
An order had been sent out for the troops to consolidate, their position, and I was considering how the gap between the left of the 54th Division Sheikh Abbas and my exposed right, west of Maidan abu Zeid might be filled up.
It should be added that at about half past five some of our Cavalry were seen galloping up and extending on the right of the 159th Brigade, but I was never in direct communication with them.
The Desert Column Commander had spoken to me on the telephone on several occasions during the afternoon and had discussed the situation with me pointing out that the Cavalry Division, by reason of shortage of water, would be obliged to withdraw to the Wadi Ghuzze during the night, that I would then be exposed to the attacks of the hostile columns which the Cavalry had been keeping off all day. I understood from him that there were four such columns, one coming from the direction of Hareira of possibly 7,000 men, a similar column marching on GAZA from the El Huj - Negils area, and two other columns of considerable strength from the North east.
Towards sunset, to the best of my recollection, he pointed out to me that my right was in the air and that he could afford me no protection during the night. He also pointed out the gap which existed between my right flank and the left of the 54th Division and that I must draw back my exposed right and join up with that Division. I explained to him that it was quite impossible to do this without abandoning the positions the Division had taken and urged that other troops might be sent to fill up the gap, and that I might be allowed to hold the position gained.
I asked for some delay to consider the situation.
I finally received from him definite instructions that I must swing back my right and get in touch with the 54th Division.
The general situation which can be seen in map "A", will show that the ground gained consisted of a flank entirely in the air. The only means at my disposal of carrying out my orders were to withdraw my troops from the greater part of the captured position and fill up the gap. This was successfully effected, naturally with great reluctance by myself and by the troops who had so gallantly taken it.
At about one in the morning, to the best of my recollection I learned from my own Staff that troops of the 54th Division had appeared on the open plain North of Mansura having apparently closed in on my right for some 2 miles. This was subsequently confirmed by a Staff Officer of the 54th Division. Further, at daylight I learned for the first time that the 54th Division, less the detachment which had been placed at my disposal, had been withdrawn during the night from Sheikh Abbas to the line Mansura - Tel el Ahmar - El Burjaliye - El Adar.
Had I known that the 54th Division was moving to close on my right I could have held on to the positions gained, possibly with the exception of the hill north east of the Mosque Hill and have consolidated the ground gained. I would also have followed my intention of pressing down into the gardens and town during the night and of so widening and strengthening my position.
At daybreak under orders given the night before reconnoitring parties from the 160th Brigade and from the 161st Brigade were pushed forward and seized the positions evacuated the night before, up to and including Ali Muntar Mosque Hill. They encountered some resistance but drove out the enemy and established themselves on this line. An soon as I had intimation of this, I pushed out further troops of the 158th and 159th Infantry Brigades in support with a view to making good the positions then held and also of re-occupying the hill North east of Ali Muntar. Before however these reinforcements could attain their objective, a strong counter attack was made by fresh Turkish troops which were seen pouring in from the north and north east of Meidan abu Zeid and our patrols were driven out of the Mosque Hill on Ali Muntar. The remainder of the position we still hold. I turned gunfire on the Mosque Hill and by means of it drove the Turks back and under the fire of Artillery bombardment the troops would, I think, have reoccupied this hill. As however my position was then as shown in Sketch "B" it was obvious that I could not ask them to retake a position which it would be impossible to hold, forming as it would have done a salient of the most acute form, exposed on three sides. As it was the troops of the 53rd and 54th Divisions, were occupying a bad narrow position. I therefore reformed the line to eliminate the acute point immediately South of Ali Muntar and gave orders for it to draw back to a point half way between Sheluf and Ali Muntar.
In addition to the Turkish counter attacking troops which came in from the east and North fast against Ali Muntar, another body had appeared early in the morning on Sheikh Abbas and established themselves there. From this position they directed Artillery fire on the back of the Mansura position among the camels, medical units and reserves. The Artillery Turkish reinforcements from the North engaged our line from north east and from north west of Gaza and the troops holding the El Sheluf - El Sire Ridge were also heavily shelled. In other words on the narrow salient held by the two Divisions, they were under cross fire throughout the day.
At about 0800 as far as I can remember a General Staff Officer of the Eastern Force Headquarters arrived to ascertain the situation, which I reported in writing.
The troops though tired were perfectly staunch and capable of holding their own but the position was, as I have already explained very restricted.
At 11.02 I received a telegram from Headquarters Eastern Force placing the 54th Division under my command. Later on I had a conversation with Brigadier General Dawnay, Brigadier General, General Staff, Eastern Force, who asked what the situation was and whether I considered the position then held by both Divisions was one which could be maintained for three or four days and consolidated until engineer material and stores could be collected.
I told him that I considered the position then bad one; that we had deliberately abandoned our captured objective and the position then held by the two Divisions was not a suitable one for defence unless Sheikh Abbas could also be occupied. I also explained that my opinion thus given was not that the troops could not hold their own, as they were doing this with ease, and all was well in this respect; but that communication by day for transport and for camel transport especially, was almost impossible as the enemy had the tracks under shell fire.
In the afternoon l received instructions by telephone from Headquarters Eastern Force subsequently confirmed by telegram to withdraw to the West bank of the Wadi Ghuzze and take up a defensive position there.
I commenced the withdrawal by moving all camels and wheeled vehicles back over the Wadi Ghuzze during the twilight. After dusk the guns were withdrawn and the Infantry commenced their retirement at about 22.00. Before daylight the whole force had reached the west side of the Wadi Ghuzze and had taken up a position on a line Sheikh Shabasi - Sheikh Rashid - El Breij and Point 310.
In conclusion I would like to record my appreciation of the generous and free action accorded to me by Desert Column Commander who allowed us to carry on my attack in my own way and without any interference. This notion of his was of the greatest possible assistance to me.
That the position was not in our possession earlier in the day was in no way the fault of the troops who marched far and fought most gallantly under difficult conditions, and in my opinion performed, a noteworthy feat of arms.
The arrangements for the attack and the deployment could not nave been carried out more quickly, in fact they wore hastened more than would have been justified had time not been of such importance.
I submit herewith a list of officers and other ranks for immediate reward for gallantry on the field under paragraph No. 7 of General Headquarters Confidential Memorandum No. MS 5625 dated 8th November 1916.
Many other acts of gallantry and distinguished service were performed by other officers and warrant officers, NCOs and men, and I propose to forward their names for very early reward as soon an possible, but my especial thanks are due to Brigadiers General J.H. Du B Travers, C.B. Commanding the 159th Infantry Brigade and Brigadier General S.F. Mott, Commanding the 158th Infantry Brigade, both of whom commanded their brigades with great ability and courage.
Also to my two Senior Staff Officers Major (Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel) G.P.C. Blount, R.A., A.A. & Q.M.G., and Major (Temporary Lieutenant Colonel) A.E.M. Sinclair Thomson, DSO Essex Regiment, who rendered me most loyal and devoted support throughout the operations. I have recommended both these officers for a Brevet Lieutenant Colonelcy is previous list of recommendations for reward, and hope that they now receive their promotion.
I also wish to record the valuable help given by the remainder of my Staff, whose names will be brought forward in due course.
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