Topic: AIF - DMC - British
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division Report on the Operations carried out
54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division Report on the Operations carried out.
The following is a transcription of Report on the Operations carried out from the War Diary of the 54th (East Anglian) Infantry Division detailing their participation during the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
Ref: Rafa Sheet 1/125,000
Report on the Operations carried out by 54th Division between 21st and 28th March, 1917.
The 54th Division concentrated at Sheikh Zowaiid on 21st March to take part in the Operations for the capture of Gaza and the destruction of Turkish Forces defending the town.
On 24th inst. Rafa was reached and on 25th the Division moved to In Seirat in two stages, halting at Beni Sela between the hours of 0800 and 1600 to avoid observation by hostile aircraft.
The Division was composed of 161st, 162nd and 163rd Infantry Brigades Commanded by Brigadier Generals WM Donnington, A Mudge, and T Ward, CMG, respectively, 270th and 271st Brigades Royal Field Artillery Commanded by Lieutenant Colonels G Bowler, and RE Laurie, respectively, 484th, 486th and 495th Royal Engineer Companies, Divisional Signal Company, 2/1st, 1/2nd and 1/3rd East Anglian Field Ambulances and 1/1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry Divisional Squadron with a total strength of 535 Officers, 12949 Other Ranks, 1,572 horses and 901 mules.
On arrival in In Seirat the troops went into bivouac covered by outposts found by the 163rd Infantry Brigade on a line running from Point 320 (Sq. J.3.9.8) through POINT 310 (Sq. J.3.7.7) to the 200 foot contour South of the first E in El Breij. This line was continued by the 53rd Division from this point northwards to the sea.
The morning of the 26th March opened with a thick mist which delayed the march of the Mounted Divisions who should have crossed the Wadi Ghuzze at 0500.
At 0530 Divisional Battle Headquarters was established an a Hill 1 mile South of Point 310 (Sq. J.3.7.7.). At 0600 161st Infantry Brigade moved from their bivouac to concentrate at Sheikh Nebhan where it remained in reserve. At 0730 the Divisional Squadron 1/1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry moved off to cross the Wadi Ghuzze at Sheikh Nebhan and secure Sheikh Abbas. At 0730 162nd Infantry Brigade followed the mounted Divisions and crossed the Wadi Ghuzze to the west of Um Jerrar to take up a position of readiness in the vicinity of L 2 4.2. one mile North of Sharta where it remained covered by day outposts. The 163rd Infantry Brigade also marched at 0730 to cross the Wadi Ghuzze at Sheikh Nebhan and than followed the 1/1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry to Sheikh Abbas, where they were ordered to take up a position of readiness covered by day outposts, and to prolong its line to the left of the 162nd infantry Brigade thus Covering Sheikh Abbas from South east, east and north east. The 270th and 271st Brigades Royal Field Artillery followed the 163rd Infantry Brigade and took up a position in the vicinity of Um Jerrar. The 486th Field Company Royal Engineers moved with the 161st Infantry Brigade under the orders of the Brigade General Commander that Brigade. The 486th and 495th Field Companies Royal Engineers moved down to the Wadi Ghuzze to develop the water supply from the cisterns and wells between El Adar and Tel el Jemmi under the Commander Royal Engineers, 54th Division. During the day water supply was developed and troughs erected for watering 2,000 horses at Tel el Jemmi, for 800 horses at Um Jerrar, and for 400 horses from the cistern at El Adar.
The 1/1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry reached Sheikh Abbas at 0955, and 163rd infantry Brigade arrived there at 1055 and made preparations for the defence of that locality.
By 0200 the l6lst Infantry Brigade reached Sheikh Nebhan and about 1100 the 162nd Infantry Brigade took up its position to the north of Sharta. On the arrival of the 163rd Infantry Brigade at Sheikh Abbas the 1/1st Hertfordshire Yeomanry Squadron withdrew to Tel el Jemmi to protect the Field Companies Royal Engineers developing the water supply in the wadi.
Throughout the day both l62nd and 163rd Infantry Brigades remained in their positions without coming into action.
At 0845 161st Infantry Brigade with 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery 486th Field Company Field Engineers and 1/3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance moved into position near the road at Burjabiya to be a reserve under the orders of Desert Column. At 1310 this Brigade Group was placed under the command of General Officer Commanding 53rd Division for subsequent operations and was moved to Mansura preparatory to attacking a hill known as Green Hill just south west of Ali Muntar. The 271st Brigade Royal Field Artillery came under the orders of the Commander Royal Artillery 53rd Division. The attack commenced at 1600. The 1/4th Sussex Regiment on the right and the 1/5th Essex Regiment on the left formed the firing line and supports with 1 section 161st Machine Gun Company to each Battalion. 1/6th Essex Regiment and half 161st Machine Gun Company formed the Brigade Reserve. The attack was pressed vigorously and the position carried at 1730 despite considerable resistance and important casualties mostly sustained from Machine Guns at close range. The 1/6th Essex Regiment was now sent up with orders to consolidate and reorganise the defence. Later orders ware received to evacuate the position during the night and establish an Outpost line further back.
The outpost line weld by the 162nd and 163rd Infantry Brigades covering Sheikh Abbas on a lies from the cross roads half a mile north of 2nd "A" to Sharta to point ½ mile north of triangulation point 325.
At 1752 the Division was ordered to take up a position on a line from El Burjaliye and Mansura to a point one mile north of Mansura, with its right in touch with the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade about Meshrefs and its left in touch with 161st Infantry Brigade at Mansura. The 163rd Infantry Brigade took over the outpost line at Sheikh Abbas while 162nd Infantry Brigade withdrew and took up the new line about Burjaliye which was occupied by 2300. The 163rd Infantry Brigade then withdrew and the Division was eventually concentrated about Mansura by 0400 on 27th inst.
At 2100 orders were received by the 161st Infantry Brigade to evacuate the line that had been reached on the Green Hill during the night and to establish an outpost line further back with its right in touch with 54th Division at Mansura. Patrols were however to go forward at dawn and if the position at Ali Muntar was found to be unoccupied the line there and on Green Hill was to be re-established.
At dawn on 27th inst. the approach and entry into Gaza of large numbers of enemy troops had been observed and reported, and our Mounted Divisions were seen withdrawing towards Wadi Ghuzze past the right flank of the line held by the 54th Division. Sounds of heavy rifle firing from the east and south east told the mounted troops were in touch with the enemy.
The outpost line held during the night was therefore entrenched and occupied by the 162nd Infantry Brigade with its right one hundred yards south of "L" in El Adar continued through Burjaliye and the "N" of Mansura, at which point 163rd Infantry Brigade took up the line and connected with the 161st Infantry Brigade holding the right of 53rd Division line at Mansura. The Imperial Camel Corps Brigade covered the gap between the right of 54th Division and the Wadi Ghuzze by taking up a position at Um Jerrar. At 0830 small parties of the enemy appeared on the Crest Line of Sheikh Abbas and the hollows west of Mansura began to be subjected to shrapnel fire from that direction, which did considerable damage amongst gun and wagon teams and transport animals exposed to view from Sheikh Abbas. At 0845 two bodies of two and three hundred Turks with 30 Cavalry reached Sheikh Abbas and some of these passed down into the ravines running west from the crest but did not make any attack. After 0930 the position here became stationary, the Turks remaining in view on the crest line of Sheikh Abbas. Hostile shrapnel shelling continued however at intervals while Brigades continued to strengthen their position throughout the day suffering only a few casualties.
At 1030 the 54th Division was placed under the Command of Major General Dallas, CB, CMG, Commanding 53rd Division and both Divisions were directed to hold on to the line then occupied.
At dawn, in the direction of Ali Muntar 161st Infantry Brigade pushed forward Patrols who re-occupied the former positions on Green Hill and Ali Muntar. It appeared probably though that the enemy would counter-attack as the position about Ali Muntar and a portion of the left of the line held by the 54th Division was subjected to considerable shelling. The Turks shortly after counter-attacked and a portion of the trenches on Green Hill and Ali Muntar were for a short time re-occupied by them. The 1/6th and 1/7th Essex Regiments promptly attacked again and re-occupied the trenches which were in possession of the Turks, after which the positions were consolidated as far as possible. At 0700 the left of 54th Division line was taken over by 163rd Infantry Brigade, who were prepared to move forward in support of an advance towards Gaza by 53rd Division. About this time the approach and entry into Gaza of large numbers of Turks from the north east was observed and reported. About 0945 a strong enemy attack on the Ali Muntar position from all sides commenced causing its evacuation.
At the same time the Green Hill was practically surrounded and the situation of the garrison seemed precarious. The moment seemed favourable for a counter-attack and the 158th Infantry Brigade appeared to be moving forward on the Green Hill and Ali Muntar. No development however took place and nothing could now be done to assist the two Battalions there, who were however not being seriously attacked.
Instructions were sent by Brigade General Commander, 161st Infantry Brigade to the Battalion Commanders of these units (1/6th and 1/7th Essex Regiments) to try and break out if opportunity occurred. Meanwhile orders had been received to prolong the defensive line which was being established to the left of the 158th Infantry Brigade on the El Sire - Ali Muntar Ridge. This was done and a front of 600 yards was occupied by 1/4th and 1/5th Essex Regiments. Later, details of 1/6th and 1/7th Essex Regiments began to rejoin and it presently appeared that practically the whole of both these had extricated themselves and had broken out of the Green Hill position.
From 1600 onwards, enemy reinforcements were seen approaching Gaza from the East and at dusk an attack was made on the line held by 53trd Division and the left of the 54th Division. It was broken up and stopped by well directed rifle and machine gun fire strongly supported by the 270th Brigade Royal Field Artillery from its position west of Mansura.
At this time it was decided to withdraw under cover of darkness to the former positions covering In Seirat.
The withdrawal was covered by the 163rd Infantry Brigade on the right and 158th Infantry Brigade on the left which units covered the crossing over the Wadi Ghuzze from El Sire and El Adar Ridges respectively until the remainder of the Divisions had effected the crossing. The movement began after dark by the withdrawal of the Divisional Artillery by the crossing at Sheikh Nebhan where the 270th and 271st Brigades Royal Field Artillery crossed by 2230, 161st Infantry Brigade also crossed by the crossing east of El Breij., to take up a position in reserve due north of the first "I" of In Seirat. The 162nd Infantry Brigade left their front line position at 2200 and crossed the Wadi Ghuzze by 2330 and occupied a line covering In Seirat from Point 320 through Point 310 and the 200 feet contour south of first "E" in El Breij. The withdrawal of the 163rd Infantry Brigade from their position on El Adar Ridge was then delayed two and half hours to enable wounded to be carried away from the Field Ambulance established at Sheikh Nebhan. At 0200 this brigade began to withdraw from El Adar and by 0320 had completely withdrawn across the Wadi reaching its bivouac at In Seirat at 0545.
The withdrawal throughout was effected without any interference from the Turks.
The casualties sustained by the Division on the 26th and 27th March were as follows:-On 26th MarchKilled - Officers 12; Other Ranks 95
Wounded - Officers 28; Other Ranks 647
Missing - Officers 3; Other Ranks 130
On 27th MarchKilled - Officers 4; Other Ranks 45
Wounded - Officers 24; Other Ranks 361
Missing - Officers 3; Other Ranks 165
Total Killed, Wounded and Missing Officers 74
Total Killed, Wounded and Missing Other Ranks 1,446
Rations for the period 12 midnight 25th to 12 midnight 26th inst were issued to the troops at 1800 on 25th. The ration was a special one. On the 26th the men carried the unexpended portion of the current day's ration (viz:- the ration less the breakfast portion and one iron ration. On the 26th a refilling point was selected at Sheikh Nebhan. Supplies were taken here by the Improvised Limbered Train and dumped there. There was some difference of opinion as to the suitability of this place. It was certainly a long way back but possessed one very great advantage and that was that it was easily recognisable by anyone, moreover it was approachable with wheeled transport and convenient for Camels. At 1530 1st Line Camels with one days water proceeded to rejoin units. On arrival at Divisional Headquarters orders were received that all 1st Line Transport except Camels carrying water and ammunition were to return to camp at once. It was thus impossible to issue rations that night.
Efforts were made to send out rations by day on 27th and in many cases these efforts were successful but come convoys were shelled and had to return.
On the afternoon of the 27th another convoy was sent to the refilling point at about 1400 but this convoy was sent back by orders from Headquarters, Eastern Force. Orders were received for the withdrawal and all Convoys were sent back to camp and water and rations issued on arrival of the troops in camp.
The action of the 161st Infantry Brigade Group will no doubt be dealt with by the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division to whose Command they were attached. The remainder of the Division except 270th Brigade Royal Field Artillery were not heavily engaged but I would like to draw attention to the good condition and cheerfulness of all ranks on their return after two very hard days, and to the steadiness of the troops and the skill of the subordinate commanders and staffs on the withdrawal during the night of March 27/28th.
The following wire was received from the Chief of General Staff begins:
Chief wishes you to convey to all ranks in your Command the great appreciation of their gallant conduct during the operations of the last two days AAA He soldiers the work of the Mounted Troops including the Camel Corps was excellent and wishes to congratulate 53rd Division and General Doddington’s Brigade on the courage and determination with which the attack on the Ali Muntar position was carried out and 54th Division on their steadiness and soldierly conduct ends."
Sgd SW Hoare, Major General
Commanding 54th Division
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