Topic: AIF - DMC - British
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
Headquarters 158th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account
Headquarters 158th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account.
The following is a transcription of the Account from the War Diary of the Headquarters 158th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division detailing its role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
Extracts from War Diary of Headquarters 158th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division
Brigade General Commander, Brigadier General SF Mott
25 March 1917
1100 Brigade General Commander and Battalion Commanders attended reconnaissance in neighbourhood of El Breij to reconnoitre crossings of Wadi Ghuzze under personal direction of General Officer Commanding, 53rd Division, who gave an appreciation of the ground of the Operations for the following day. Brigade General Commander reconnoitred best route for night march to Wadi Ghuzze.
1600 158th Infantry Brigade left Khan Yunis and marched to Deir el Belah.
1800 Arriving Deir el Belah Camp about 1800.
Brigade General Commander informed by Division that this Brigade would take a route marked by flags by Commander Royal Engineers, 53rd Division. His request to guide his Column by route reconnoitred was over-ruled, on the ground that a Guide who knows this route would be provided, and that it was inadvisable to alter Divisional Orders, already in print.
2240 Operation Order No. 27 for Night March received.
26 March 1917
0100 Brigade marched out of Bivouac, but guide could not be found at Starting Point. After a delay of haft hour, Brigade moved off in lines of Battalions in Column of Route. Guide, who had now arrived, repeatedly lost his way, and Brigade General Commander decided to march on an approximate bearing by the map.
0400 Rendezvous (Breij mud hut, ¾ mile from WADI Ghuzze reached. Guide again lost his way to Wadi CROSSING.
0435 Head of Brigade reached WADI, just before Dawn, having been due to cross at 0345. A thick fog had formed.
Head of the Brigade, 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers was ordered to proceed on a bearing of 85 degrees to the objective, namely the higher ground between El Adaro - el Burjaliye fanning out into 2 lines of half Battalions on the move, so as not to check the rest of the battalions in crossing the WADI.
0526 Wire from 53rd Division asking for information re position.
0545 Leading Battalion reached Objective - Fog still very thick.
0555 Brigade Headquarters opened up with leading Battalion to report the arrival of the column in its position, suggesting pushing on.
0615 Brigade concentrated, and no reply having been received pushed on to Mansura on a bearing of 37 degrees.
0745 Masura Heights occupied. Fog lifted slightly and 2 Turkish aeroplanes rose from the ground and shortly afterwards trumpets were sounded in the Turkish Trenches.
0800 Thus, when the fog lifted, the Brigade had made an advance of three and a half miles by means of compass bearings, this advance !being most ably carried out by the leading Battalion 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers (Lieutenant Colonel FH Borthwick).
0830 Our Cavalry seen on skyline south of Sheikh Abbas. Communication established by helio and a report sent of the position of 158th Infantry Brigade. Communication established with 160th Brigade on Sire Ridge. Cable Cart arrived and message sent to 53rd Division reporting Mansura position occupied by us.
0834 Officer Commanding 266th Brigade Royal field Artillery (Lieutenant Colonel Pearson) accompanied Brigade General Commander during advance and decided to send back for his guns by the route Brigade had come.
0850 General Officer Commanding 53rd Division arrived and remained with 158th Infantry Brigade.
1856 160th Infantry Brigade reported they had occupied El Sheluf. Wires exchanged with the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division sent for Brigadiers to a Conference at Mansura to decide method of attack.
0900 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers followed by rest of Brigade pushed on to Bluff 4,400 yards south of Ali Muntar Mosque. This was afterwards the place of deployment for the attack.
0930 Repeated wire to 160th Infantry Brigade.
1015 Conference of Brigadiers commenced. The Commander Royal Artillery was asked by General Officer Commanding 53rd Division how long he required to get his guns into position and replied two hours. It appeared likely therefore that the attack would begin about 1230.
1030 Operation Order No. 28 Issued. G. 20 issued. Brigade General Commander sent for Commanding Officers and explained the attack, assigning to battalions objectives and frontage, so as to be ready to commence the attack when ordered, no time having yet been given.
1106 General Officer Commanding 53rd Division personally showed Brigade General Commander a wire received from Desert Column impressing on him (General Officer Commanding 53rd Division) importance of time. He directed Brigade General Commander to push a reconnaissance at once towards Ali Muntar, which in the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division's opinion was unoccupied, our Cavalry having been seen east of Gaza.
1116 Brigade General Commander immediately sent out 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers to advance north in Artillery formation for about 1,000 yards, and to wheel on their objective, Ali Muntar, instructing them not to become involved in an attack by themselves. Brigade General Commander than again assembled Commanding Officer's and dictated orders for the deployment of the Brigade consequently to prolong the line of 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers to the east, in following order, 6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, Herefords were Brigade reserve. 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers moved out to the attack and were followed consecutively by 1/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Brigade General Commander reported action taken to General Officer Commanding 53rd Division who approved. The General Officer Commanding gave personal instructions to the Brigade General Commander that the Artillery support would be under Divisional control and that all requirements were to be made to Divisional Headquarters through the Brigade.
1146 Divisional Order G. 26 ordered attack to move forward on receipt of message. Only a portion of the Brigade, however, was deployed.
1200 By this time, 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had got on a line facing Ali Muntar on rising ground abut 2,000 yards from it, in full view of enemy's position without a shot having been fired. They pushed on rapidly down the slope as far as the "Cactus Garden" about 800 yards from Ali Muntar. At this point it was evident by the heavy fire which had just been opened that the position was strongly held. It was therefore necessary for this Battalion to wait till the rest of the Brigade had prolonged this line to the east. A Section of Machine Guns was at once ordered out to take up a position on the rising ground south west of 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers under Second Lieutenant SL Heard. This Section did good work throughout the day. Shortly afterwards the Brigade General Commander spoke on wire to Officer Commanding 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers as to his situation. Officer Commanding 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers replied that his team had pushed in further than he wished and that he had been unable to stop them and was consequently rather in the air. He was informed that the rest of the Brigade was on its way up to prolong his line to the east, and was asked if a Section of 158th Company, Machine Gun Corps would assist him. As he replied that it would, 1 Section was ordered to go. Later he was again asked verbally if it would assist him to have the reserve, the Herefords, put in on his left, with an objective of Green Hill. He replied that it would.
1330 Message received that our Cavalry had cut off Gaza from the north.
2335 Brigade Headquarters moved forward and re-established 1,500/1,600 yards south east of Ali Muntar. Brigade General Commander 159th Infantry Brigade had also selected this spot for his Headquarters and the Headquarters remained together till the end of the fight.
1345 At about this time, the Herefords began to move forward on receipt of orders (see above). Brigade General Commander went forward to Officer Commanding 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and instructed him to meet Herefords and show then the point of alignment on his left from which they would best assist his position. Officers of 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers report that the advance of this Battalion was remarkable for its steadiness and they materially, assisted the 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers upon whom to that time the enemy was concentrating his fire both from Green Hill and from Ali Muntar. By this time, 1/6th and 1/7th Battalions Royal Welsh Fusiliers were getting up into line with 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and these two Battalions began to advance very rapidly. It should be noted that the enemy's fire which as doing most damage come from the Mosque and Green Hill and that up to this period, 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had been out exposed on a glacis about 700 yards from Ali Muntar and Green Hill which latter Hill flanked the whole the enemy position in front of the Brigade. This Battalion behaved with a patience and steadiness which cannot be over estimated losing heavy casualties for a period of more than an hour. 1/6th and 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers were quick to recognise this fact and pushed on with the greatest vigour. The whole line now began to advance, including, the Herefords were now up on the left of 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The story of the advance of 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers is best told by an extract from the War Diary of that unit, which reads as follows:"At about 1130, the Attack began in the following order, the 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers moved out in an easterly direction in Artillery formation, followed by 1/6th, 1/7th the Herefords being in reserve. The 1/5th were ordered when due south of Ali Muntar to change direction north each Battalion doing the same manoeuvre as it reached a point 500 yards farther east of the Battalion in front of it, its this manoeuvre the line was prolonged eastwards and faced North.
During the Advance the enemy's artillery opened a pretty hot shrapnel and High Explosives fire on the Brigade fortunately few casualties occurred during that period. This advance was carried out perfectly by the Troops and also the wheel facing north. Each battalion as it completed its wheel went quickly forward towards its objective, till the firing line was held up by heavy fire and Machine Gun fire about 500 yards from enemy position. I must point out that the last 1,500 yards of our advance was in full view of the enemy and an absolutely open glacis, the Battalion nevertheless worked a magnificent advance in splendid order and showing the greatest bravery and determination. At 2 pm the 159th Infantry Brigade under General Travers, by this time had deployed and come into action on our right, attacking to the east of the Mosque on Ali Muntar; from now onwards till about 3.50 pm no further advance was made by our Brigade, there being very heavy machine Gun fire which caused heavy casualties.
At about 3.50 pm Captain Walker and Lieutenant Latham and Fletcher with about 40 men of "B" Company and two Officers and about 40 men of the 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers decided to advance and most gallantly attacked and pierced the enemy's line to the east of the Mosque and immediately east of it, Captain Walker personally capturing one enemy Machine Gun his party about 20 Germans and Austrians including 3 officers and also 20 Turks. During this local attack, Lieutenant Latham became detached from Captain Walker, he with one Officer of 1/6th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had very heavy fighting at close range amongst a lot of cactus hedges. During this fighting they captured a great part of the Staff of the 53rd Turkish Division and also some Austrian and German Machine Gunners.
At about 4.10 pm, the Officer Commanding of 7th Cheshire Regiment Lieutenant Colonel Lawrence, joined Captain Walker, and under his direction the position was consolidated and fire brought to bear on remainder of enemy's trenches to the west which were not captured till 6.10 pm. During all this period the remainder of the Battalion had been held up in front of the enemy's position at a range of about 400 yards.
At 4.15 pm I asked for Artillery to bring High Explosive fire on cactus hedge along enemy position - this was done with excellent results. They at once put out a Machine Gun which was doing us great damage. Major Owen, as we had no Forward Observation Officer with us, also went back to a battery of Guns about 100 yards to the rear and pointed out to them the targets we wished them to fire upon.
At 5.30 p.m. I sent another wire to Brigade Headquarters and asked them to continue High Explosive fire further along the Hedge to west. They did this with splendid results.
At about 6 pm General Dodington's Brigade of the 54th Division advanced in the west of enemy position, 158th Brigade joining and the position was taken, the Turks running away before our troops reached the position. While the Turks were running away, Captain Walkers party made excellent practice at them. A Machine Gun Section under Lieutenant Hartle did excellent work at awkward covering fire from ridge 1,200 yards south of Mosque. Perhaps what was most striking in this attack was that although nearly the whole line of the 158th Brigade was flanked by Green Hill, this did not deter the right of the line (1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers) which was not so exposed, from pressing forward over less exposed ground. The principle and aggressive spirit of every man trying to get forward was carried out to the letter."
The advance of 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers was gallantly supported by 5th Welsh Regiment of 159th Brigade, throughout and these two Battalions, mixed up as they were, fought each for the other in a manner worthy of the highest praise.
1435 Mounted troops ordered to push into GAZA from east. Various messages requesting artillery support were rewired and forwarded during this period. Baggage and water to come up to Tel el Ahmar. During the afternoon a Small Arms Ammunition Dump was formed at Brigade Headquarters. Various message asking for more medical assistance and water were received and sent on. By this time casualties were very severe and it was quite impossible to deal with the wounded without advancing a dressing station. The bearer Sub-Section was ordered forward to form a dressing station 300 yards south of Brigade Headquarters. At this period Brigade General Commander made enquiries as to the position of 160th Brigade and was informed that the enemy's position had been very strong in front of them, and that although they had taken the "Labyrinth" they were unable to push on to Green Hill which was the cause of all the trouble to 158th Brigade. Neither Brigade (158th or 159th Infantry Brigades) had anything left to put into the attack. The General Officer Commanding then asked Brigade General Commander 159th Infantry Brigade to decide in conjunction with Brigade General Commander 158th Infantry Brigade, the objective at which they considered it best to launch a Brigade of the 54th Division (161st Infantry Brigade) which had been placed under his command. Their reply was "Green Hill".
General Dodington's Brigade, 161st, advanced and moved rapidly on Green Hill was occupied by 5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers 1st Herefords, and 161st Brigade and the Ali Muntar defences by 1/6th and 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, 5th Welsh Regiment, and 7th Cheshires of 159th Infantry Brigade. It was then clear that as soon as the rapid advance of 161st Infantry Brigade on Green Hill from the south west which was most gallantly carried out took off the attention of the enemy from 158th Infantry Brigade the whole line could push forward. The 161st Infantry Brigade suffered very heavy casualties but nothing could stop them from pushing right home.
1832 Further request sent for sand carts. See Appendices 17 to 22.
At sunset, Brigade General Commander ordered horses for Brigade Headquarters in order to advance to Ali Muntar and to make arrangements for consolidating the position but was called to the telephone and instructed by General Officer Commanding to remain where he was the present, as the General Officer Commanding was about to speak to Headquarters Eastforce. He mentioned the possibility of retirement at which the Brigade General Commander protested as this contingency appeared to the Brigade General Commander as out of the question, and he sent on his Staff to Ali Muntar to organise the consolidation of the position won.
2003 Permission was asked to send Water Camels up to units at Ali Muntar, no answer received.
2215 Orders, GT 862 from 53rd Division received which included the order to withdraw from Ali Muntar position, the retirement to commence at midnight.
2225 Instructions communicated to Commanding Officers by wire except 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, to whom written orders were carried by Lieutenant Hampson, Brigade Signalling Officer.
2400 Withdrawal begun.
27 March 1917
0215 Bulk of Brigade were now back in position ordered. It was ascertained that several parties of the Brigade had pushed on amongst lanes and trees towards Gaza and did not retire till dawn. One party met some Anzac Mounted men, who had pushed right through from the north on the south side of the town. Several prisoners were taken by these advanced parties during the night.
0330 Intercepted message received from Von Kress to Officer Commanding Gaza, timed 2223 begins "Regard to disposition of Turkish Troops and leaders, can an attack be successful at early dawn I beg you do your utmost to hold out".
0533 Orders were received to push out strong patrols to ascertain whether enemy had re-occupied Ali Muntar. Brigade General Commander ordered Herefords to get ready to move at once, but a considerable time elapsed before they moved because they were in tie process of filling water bottles and replenishing Small Arms Ammunition. Battalion moved about 0630. Orders were issued to move as quickly as possible to Ali Muntar, to occupy and consolidate the position and to take command of any troops the 161st Infantry Brigade who might already be there, as the 161st Infantry Brigade had been ordered to push out patrols at dawn.
0704 53rd Division stated "We have retaken Green Hill". This message was handed to Lieutenant Colonel Drage, Herefords, on the march. Two Stations Machine Gun Company were ordered to get ready to follow the Herefords, reporting to Lieutenant Colonel Drage for instructions. As the Herefords approached Ali Muntar via Green Hill, and the leading Company had just arrived, the 4th Essex commenced to retire before a Turkish attack from the north. The Order to retire was passed down from Essex to Herefords. The Herefords however remained waiting for orders. Not understanding the situation, or having any conception of a Turkish attack advancing threw the Cactus bushes, the leading Company of Herefords withdrew to Green Hill. The retirement spread also on Green Hill and was not checked till that hill also was in the enemy's hands. The enemy took full advantage of this retirement to shell the retreating troops very hastily, with guns which had evidently been brought up during the night. This placed two Battalions of 158th Infantry Brigade in the air, who were taking up a line across the valley in a northerly direction to include Ali Muntar on the assumption that Ali Muntar and Green Hill, were occupied by 161st Infantry Brigade. It was therefore necessary to draw back 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers and 1/7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The line was at once readjusted and Brigade General Commander 161st Infantry Brigade moved up with his remaining Battalions and prolonged the line right up across Sire Ridge effectually checking any further advance on the part of the Turks. This line was dug in and maintained until 2200 then the 158th Infantry Brigade withdrew to cover the retirement of the rest of the force. Soon after 0800, the 5th 6th and 7th Royal Welsh Fusiliers had moved forward out of the bivouac, which was being very heavily shelled from Sheikh Abbas. While the above was taking place, Divisional Operation Order No.29, was received, but before the remainder of the Brigade could be got ready to move Ali Muntar and Green Hill had been lost and the advance of 160th and 161st Infantry Brigades to occupy Ali Muntar had failed. At 0940 another message was received from 53rd Division stating position to be critical. Message not delivered to Brigade General Commander till his return from Sire Ridge about 1130.
1127 As soon as the Turks were in possession of Green Hill and Ali Muntar they proceeded to make it feeble advance across the open from east of Mansura. About this time, Division also reported Turks massing north east of Ali Muntar. Messages were received from Battalions in front line asked for Forward Observing Officers as good artillery targets were presenting themselves. A Body of Turks collected in the "Cactus Garden" but the 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers decided to reserve their fire as they knew that a certain number of wounded had been left there.
1130 At about 1130 after the Brigade General Commander had returned from Sire Ridge, where he had gone to set a personal view of the situation, where the troops appeared to be withdrawing from Green Hill, he informed the General Officer Commanding by telephone that the situation had been critical and that it was essential that so further retirement take plane. He also informed the General Officer Commanding that he had reconnoitred the Ridge and considered that a support position to the line already being held should be dug immediately and requested that a Royal Engineer Company be sent up for that purpose.
1205 Wire received from Division that the position must be held at all costs.
1305 Instructions sent to Units notifying them of the position of affairs.
The situation now remained stationery.
1335 Wire stated that 1/lst Welsh Field Company Royal Engineers was reporting to Brigade Headquarters (see above) but this Company never reached Brigade.
1534 Report received, 2 Battalions, 161st Infantry Brigade cut off on Green Hill but this proved not to be the case as Essex had already retired.
1633 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers reported a large body of enemy reinforcements advancing towards Gaza. At this time Brigade General Commander again rang up General Officer Commanding representing that Camels should be sent up at once, so that men might get food and water as soon as possible. He stated that he had no reserve and wished to get Battalions back in rotation so as to rest and feed them. The General Officer Commanding however informed the Brigade General Commander that an event of great importance would happen at 2100 and that no camels could be sent up before than, asking if the Brigade could wait till that time. The Brigade General Commander concluded that the event mentioned above was the arrival of reinforcements and consented. The Brigade General Commander thereupon communicated the information personally to Commanding Officers by telephone. At some time after this, Brigade General Commander was informed by General Officer Commanding that orders were being issued for the whole force to retire over the Wadi Ghuzze, but no information as to route to be taken by the Brigade was given, nor was Brigade General Commander informed that 158th Infantry Brigade was to cover retirement of Division. Brigade General Commander immediately ordered Commanding Officers to reconnoitre routes back to the Ghuzze.
1700 At about 1700 Brigade Headquarters was shelled and Intelligence Officer (Second Lieutenant Shaw 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers) and Signal Sergeant both wounded.
1730 Operation Order (G. 56) for retirement of force received. This message took nearly an hour before it was completed and was read as it came through. The day was now drawing out and there was little time for reconnoitring route, which Brigade was ordered to take.
Brigade General Commander was unable in the failing light to get as far as Sire Ridge, but saw General Doddington.
3 alterations to Operation Order (G. 56) mentioned above received at 1822, 2012 and an after-order at 2043.
After making verbal arrangements with Brigade General Commander, 161st Infantry Brigade, Brigade General Commander issued orders to the Brigade.
1904 Turks made an attack against 161st Infantry Brigade on Sire Ridge.
2007 An enemy attack developed from east against our position at Mansura. Both these attacks failed and the Turks did not trouble us any further. Previous to the above, at about 1845 (?) Lieutenant Hayman, 436th (1/1st) Welsh Field Company Royal Engineers reported Brigade Headquarters stating that he hard reconnoitred a route from the Ghuzze to Brigade Headquarters and had been ordered to guide Brigade in its retirement. All animals and 158th Machine gun Company were sent on ahead as soon as they could be collected.
1205 Battalions commenced to arrive at starting point, Lewis Guns being carried by hand. 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers however had lost 1 Company and 1 platoon as well as their Officer Commanding. Brigade waited till 2240 for this party, but as they did not arrive
Brigade moved off.
2240 Too much credit cannot be given to Lieutenant Hayman who had been ordered hurriedly to reconnoitre the route, the latter part of which he did in the dusk. This officer successfully guided the Brigade over very difficult country intercepted with deep gullies.
28 March 1917
0115 Brigade arrived Ghuzze about 0115 having picked up on the way the lost party of 1/5th Royal Welsh Fusiliers without losing a man or an animal.
After filling water bottles and resting for an hour, the Brigade marched to a bivouac at word BIR, about 1½ miles north of Deir el Belah arriving at daybreak. Casualty Return attached.
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53rd (Welsh) Division Order of Battle
British Forces, EEF, Roll of Honour
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Allied Forces, Roll of Honour
The Palestine Campaign, 1917 - 1918
Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Headquarters 158th Infantry Brigade, 53rd Division War Diary Account