Topic: BatzP - 1st Gaza
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
Falls Account Part 4
Falls Account, Sketch Map 14.
The following is an extract of the Falls Account from the the Official British War History volumes on Egypt written by Falls, C.; and, MacMunn, G., Military operations: Egypt and Palestine, (London 1928), pp. 279 - 325 detailing the British role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
Falls, Chapter XVI The First Battle Of Gaza
The First Battle of Gaza.
The Envelopment of Gaza by the Mounted Troops.
The fog was at its thickest, as has been recorded, just as the leading brigade of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division approached the Wadi Ghazze at 4.50 a.m. Owing to good guiding and the excellent sense of direction possessed by the Australian mounted troops, the movement was not seriously checked, though each section could scarcely distinguish that next in front. The 2nd L.H. Brigade (Br.General G. do L. Ryrie) successfully crossed, covered the mile of broken ground on the right bank, and then, reaching a better surface, advanced at a smart pace, on a compass bearing. By 8 a.m., an hour after the commencement of its advance, its screen was approaching Sheikh Abbas, and the fog was lifting. Here the first encounter with the enemy took place. A Turkish patrol opened fire on the 7th A.L.H., which promptly closed upon it at a gallop and rode it down. Shortly afterwards two enemy aircraft swooped down and fired their machine guns at the leading troops, but caused no casualties and were eventually driven off by rifle fire. The regiment, widely extended, continued to advance rapidly, galloping through the small bodies of the enemy which it encountered. The men were in the highest spirits at their advance into the Turkish position, and thoroughly enjoyed riding down and capturing the surprised and fleeing Turks in this ideal grass country. They crossed the Gaza - Beersheba road, cutting the telegraph lines which ran beside it as they passed, one patrol capturing ten wagons and another a party of 30 German pioneers with pack-horses.
Soon after 9 a.m., the 2nd L.H. Brigade reached its destination of Beit Durdis, closely followed by the remainder of the A. & N.Z. Mounted Division. After a short halt to reorganize, the 2nd L.H. Brigade was despatched north-west. By 10.30 it had taken up a position on a hill overlooking Gaza from the north-east, (Afterwards known as Australia Hill.) had occupied the village of Jebaliye, 2 miles north-east of Gaza and west of the road to the north, and had detached the 7th A.L.H. to envelop the northern side of the town. Half an hour later the 7th A.L.H. had extended to the sea. Two squadrons of the 6th A.L.H, were pushed out towards Deir Sneid, 7 miles north-east of Gaza, to watch for the approach of Turkish reinforcements from the north. How complete was the surprise was shown when a patrol of the 2nd L.H. Brigade captured the commander of the Turkish 53rd Division between Deir Sneid and Gaza. The Turkish general, with a small mounted escort, was driving with his staff in carriages down to Gaza to take command, in complete ignorance of the proximity of British troops, when to his astonishment and disgust his escort bolted and he found himself surrounded by a party of light horsemen, grinning at his discomfiture. The incident was, however, not altogether a good omen, for it presaged the advance of reinforcements to Gaza.
The N.Z.M.R. Brigade concentrated near Beit Durdis and despatched a squadron towards Huj and a second towards Najd, 3 miles N.N.E. of Huj. (These detachments were directly under the orders of the divisional commander.) The 22nd Mounted Brigade formed up south of the New Zealanders. General Chauvel's divisional headquarters was established at Beit Durdis, and communication by cable, helio and wireless opened. The wireless was, however, jammed by the more powerful Turkish installation at Gaza.
The Imperial Mounted Division, following the A. & N.Z. Division, had been somewhat delayed by the fog in crossing the broken ground east of the Wadi Ghazze, but reached its destination at Kh. er Reseim at 10 a.m. On its march it had pushed out four patrols in an easterly direction towards Abu Hureira, Tell esh Sheria, Kh. Zuheilika, and Huj. The first three were held up by small bodies of Turkish cavalry and infantry, and two squadrons of the 5th Mounted Brigade were pushed forward in support towards Kh. el Baha, south-east of Kh. er Reseim and a mile north of the Gaza-Beersheba road. Another squadron was despatched towards Huj to make touch with the patrols of the A. & N.Z. Division. In this it failed, coming under fire from a small body of the enemy. At 9.45 a.m. a squadron of the Worcester Yeomanry charged a party of Turks north-west of Kh. el Baha and captured 60 prisoners. These minor incidents represented all that was seen of the enemy for some hours. The 5th Mounted Brigade remained on the Gaza-Beersheba road, south of Kh. el Baha, in support of its outpost squadrons.
The Camel Brigade (Br.-General C. L. Smith) had crossed at Tell el Jemmi south of the crossings of the mounted divisions.at Urn Jerrar, and had reached El Mendur, on the bank of the Wadi esh 'Sheria before the Imperial Mounted Division passed by on its way to Kh. er Reseim. Its outpost line was put out between the right of the 5th Mounted Brigade and the Wadi Ghazze.
The 54th Division (Major-General S. W. Hare), less 161st Brigade and 271st Brigade R.F.A. in Eastern Force reserve, crossed according to orders behind the mounted troops, took up a position of observation on the Sheikh Abbas Ridge, and began the digging of a line of entrenchments facing east. The 161st Brigade, which had halted at Sheikh Nebhan, on the bank of the Wadi Ghazze, received orders at 8.45 to cross and advance to El Burjabye, west of Sheikh Abbas and south of Mansura, where it would be in a position to support either the 53rd or 54th Divisions.
By 10.30 a.m., therefore, the mounted troops had accomplished their first mission of enveloping Gaza and interposing their main force between the town and the Turkish encampments to the east, thus creating a corridor for the main attack. At Sheikh Abbas the 54th Division covered the right rear of that attack. It now remained for the 53rd Division to carry out its more difficult tasks: the capture of the Ali Muntar position, which dominated Gaza, and then of the town itself.
Falls Account Line of March Picture.
Previous: Falls Account Part 3, The Fog at Dawn on the 26th March.
Next: Falls Account Part 5, The Opening of the Main Attack.
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Citation: The First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917, Falls Account Part 4, The Envelopment of Gaza by the Mounted Troops.