Topic: BatzP - 1st Gaza
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
Falls Account Part 5
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 Opening of the Main Attack.
Despite the fog, the two leading brigades of the 53rd Division reached their positions of assembly on the ridges soon after 8.30 a.m. The 160th Brigade began crossing the Wadi Ghazze at 3.45 a.m., before the fog had come up and only a quarter of an hour after schedule time. The 158th Brigade was, as already related, led down to the wadi by its commander at 4.35, fifty minutes late. It was the intention of General Dallas, when he found how thick the fog had become, to halt the two brigades north of the Wadi Ghazze till the artillery had crossed. At 6.50 he sent orders to them to push forward slowly towards their respective objectives, Mansura and Esh Sheluf. But both brigadiers, impressed with the importance of time, had already moved when these orders were received Br.-General Butler, who was first across, long before they were sent. By 5.10 a.m., the 4 /Sussex, the leading battalion of the 160th Brigade, had secured the most prominent knoll on the Es Sire Ridge. Br.-General Mott also decided to advance on Mansura as soon as his brigade was over. Bugles were heard sounding in the Turkish lines as he moved forward. By 8.30 he was in touch with the 160th Brigade, now at Esh Sheluf, and soon afterwards his leading battalion, the 5/Welch Fusiliers, reached a covered position west of Mansura, 3 miles from the wadi and 2 miles short of Ali Muntar.
The 159th Brigade had completed its crossing by 6.40 a.m., and taken up a position on the right bank according to orders. At 8.25 Br.-General Travers telephoned to divisional headquarters to ask whether he was to move forward. He was told to stay where he was, as General Dallas had not yet decided how he desired to employ him. An hour later the brigade received orders to advance to Mansura in support of the 158th Brigade.
At 9 a.m. General Dallas, who had gone to the headquarters of the 158th Brigade, rode forward to reconnoitre, summoning his brigadiers and C.R.A., Br.-General R. E. A. Le Mottee, to a conference at Mansura to discuss the detailed arrangements of the attack. It was 10.15 before they actually assembled. Br.-General Travers, who had ridden up from the wadi, pointed out that the 159th Brigade, not having received orders to advance until 9.30, nor having been properly on the move before 10, would not be ready to take part in the attack till noon.
Though a long preparatory order had been issued by General Dallas at 9.15 the previous night, the actual operation orders for the attack had not been drawn up in advance, since details depended upon the results of reconnaissance. But it had been hoped that the attack would be launched by 10 a.m. General Chetwode was, therefore, growing anxious at the delay and was also concerned because he had been for two hours out of touch with General Dallas during the move of the latter's headquarters from El Breij to Mansura. (General Dallas had left an officer at the telephone at El Breij, but the latter appears to have gone forward. It should be noted, however, that it is the duty of each formation or unit to provide communication with formations or units under its command. The responsibility for communication is forward, not backward, though this does not, of course, absolve any commander from sending back information by all means in his power.) At 10.18 he telephoned to him, impressing on him the need of speedy action. General Dallas replied at 10.50 that the loss of time had been due to difficulty in bringing up his artillery and that he hoped to be ready to attack at noon. In point of fact, the artillery was already in position south of the Mansura bluff and in the valley between the Burjabye and Es Sire Ridges, though cable had not yet been laid out to connect the brigades with divisional headquarters, and no orders had yet been sent to them. The 266th Brigade records that it had actually opened fire on Ali Muntar at 10.10, while the 265th had two batteries ready to open fire at 10.20 and had ordered the third battery to move up into line with the other two. Their progress that morning may be shortly related. The C.R.A, had ordered them to cross the wadi and take up positions to give support if necessary to the infantry in its preliminary advance to Mansura and Esh Sheluf, and both were across by 6.30 a.m. As the infantry met with no opposition in its advance to the line Mansura-Esh Sheluf, no artillery support was required at this stage. Br.-General Le Mott6e had then ridden out on a reconnaissance, in the course of which he had given verbal instructions to the two brigade commanders to push forward and take up new positions to support the further advance of the infantry on AIi Muntar and the Gaza defences. The real causes of the delay were, first, the time employed at Mansura in reconnaissance, which had been delayed by the fog, and the explanation of the plan of attack to the brigadiers, who had in turn to explain it to their battalion commanders; and secondly, the fact that the 159th Brigade had not yet arrived.
General Dallas had at 10.4 a.m. telegraphed to Desert Column asking for the position of the 161st Brigade (Br.General W. Marriott-Dodington) and 271st Brigade R.F.A. in Eastern Force reserve, which he had been promised by General Dobell if he required them. Desert Column replied, presumably without consulting Eastern Force, that the brigade group was at Sheikh Nebhan, where he should get in touch with it, and that it was at his disposition. As we have seen, it had already crossed the Wadi Ghazze, with orders to move to El Burjabye. But Br.-General Dodington, thinking that point too exposed, had moved down into the valley between the Burjabye and Es Sire Ridges. General Dallas sent it a telegraphic message at 11.45, ordering it to move up to Mansura, but, so far as can be ascertained, the message did not reach the brigade. The staff officer was subsequently sent to find it and bring it forward, but it was not till 1.10 p.m. that General Dallas's instructions were received.
The brigade was south of the final “E” in Es Sire, only about a mile and a half from Mansura. Major H. L. Wright, its brigade-major, states that the message received at 1.10 was by motor-cyclist. It therefore appears that it came, not from General Dallas, but from Eastern Force, which records ordering the brigade to Mansura at 12.45. Major Wright also states that he placed a patrol at the point which he took to be El Burjabye, to receive any message which might be sent, but that none was received from this source.
At 11 a.m. General Dallas issued his formal orders - recording the outline of what had been settled at the conference - for the attack. This was to begin as soon as subordinate commanders had issued their orders. Br.General Butler had to ride back to his brigade across the valley to the Es Sire Ridge. Meanwhile the 158th and 160th Brigades, now about 2½ miles from their objective, were to push forward patrols towards Ali Muntar.
Half-an-hour later Desert Column again telegraphed, expressing the anxiety of both Generals Dobell and Chetwode with regard to the delay and ordering General Dallas to launch his attack forthwith. At 11.45 the latter ordered the attack to begin, and the 158th and 160th Brigades began their advance a few minutes later. The 159th Brigade, which was assigned a part in the attack, had not then arrived at Mansura. The 158th Brigade was to attack Ali Muntar from Mansura, the 160th Brigade the same objective along the Es Sire Ridge. The 159th Brigade was to cover the right of the 158th and attack a hummock north of Ali Muntar and on the other side of the Gaza-Beersheba road, known as Clay Hill. The sole divisional reserve was to be one battalion of the 159th Brigade, until the arrival of the 161st Brigade, for which General Dallas had asked. The two field artillery brigades were to support the infantry under the orders of the C.R.A.
The artillery bombardment began at noon, the 265th and 266th Brigades being in the positions already mentioned. Two guns of the 10th Heavy Battery came into action at the south-west end of the Es Sire Ridge, two guns of the 91st from the Wadi Ghazze where the Rafah-Gaza road crossed it, and two guns of the 15th Heavy Battery (with Money's Detachment) from the dunes north of Tell el Ujul on the coast. As the enemy's position was invisible, no definite artillery programme had been drawn up, and it was necessary to trust to the reports of forward observing officers for the support of the advance, though the heavy batteries were successfully ranged by aeroplanes.
On receiving their orders to begin the attack, the troops of the 158th and 160th Brigades, who had now been assembled for from three to four hours, began their advance with alacrity, almost at once coming under shrapnel fire. The head of the 159th Brigade reached Mansura at noon and had to wheel first right, then left, in order to take its position on the right of the line and swing in towards its objective. The battalions were immediately deployed, and, eager to catch up covered long stretches at the double.
Falls Account Line of March Picture.