Topic: AIF - DMC - British
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
Eastern Force Account
Eastern Force Account.
The following is a transcription of Eastern Force Account from the War Diary of the Eastern Force detailing the battle plan for the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
Report on Operation
March 26th and 27th 1917
1. In accordance with the general plan previously submitted I moved the force under my command forward during the 24th and 25th March, and on the night of the latter date the Eastern Force occupied the following positions;Anzac Mounted DivisionImperial Mounted Division53rd Division
In the vicinity of Deir el Belah with outposts on the Wadi Ghuzze from a point about El Breij to the sea.
54th Division - About In Seirat covered by outposts to the east and north east, the left being in touch with those of the Desert Column.
52nd Division - Khan Yunis.
2. Owing to the enemy having on previous occasions withdrawn from prepared positions before the infantry could be brought into action, the essence of the projected operation was celerity and secrecy. My aim was to destroy the garrison of Gaza, and to Occupy that place before relief could come from the enemy forces distributed in various localities in the vicinity. Copies of my orders Nos. 33 (See: Eastern Force Order No 33) and 34 (Ed. Cannot be located.) of 24th and 25th March respectively, and are attached, Appendix II and III.
The reason for Increasing the force at disposal of General Officer Commanding, Desert Column by the troops mentioned in Paragraph 1 of Eastern Force Order No, 34 was that information was received on the 24th indicating an increase in the enemy force in Gaza, and further to ensure if possible that the operation might be carried out with the utmost rapidity.
3. I attach the reports of the General Officers Commanding the Desert Column, 53rd Division and 54th Division, Appendices IV, V, and VI respectively.
These show in detail the action of each formation on the 26th and 27th March.
4. A dense fog, which did not clear until 8 am on the 26th, seriously delayed the operation, owing to the difficulty experienced by units and formations in finding their way.
In spite of this the mounted troops were in position on the north east and east of Gaza by 1000, prepared to dispute the advance of any reinforcements, and at the same time to prevent the garrison from escaping.
The 53rd Division had crossed the wadi before daylight but were subsequently delayed for two hours delay as General Dallas deemed it inadvisable to advance till the fog had cleared, lest he should find himself without artillery support.
5. At 1020 Lieutenant General Sir Philip Chetwode, Commanding Desert Column, impressed on General Officer Commanding 53rd Division the great importance of pushing on in order that Gaza should be captured before the arrival of hostile reinforcements.
About this time by means of intercepted wireless messages, I became aware of the conditions in Gaza and of the measures taken by Colonel von Kress to relieve the place.
In the meantime the 54th Division, less one complete Brigade Group, had reached Sheikh Abbas and was in position there by 1100.
6. The attack by the infantry was seriously begun about 1310, and at 1530, as the situation in other respects appeared to admit, and in order to hasten the decision, the Anzac Mounted Division also began to move on Gaza.
The infantry of the Desert Column reinforced by one Brigade Group of 54th division, after meeting and overcoming most stubborn resistance carried the Ali Muntar position and gained a footing on the ridge to a point about 1,200 yards to the northwest of that position just at dark. At the same time the Anzac Mounted Division had pushed on and was fighting in the eastern outskirts of the town.
7. At dark the Imperial Mounted Division was in touch with enemy relieving columns and had already been forced to fall back before them at some points. Very few of the horses had been watered during the day and it was necessary to withdraw the Mounted Divisions for this reason. The enemy in the town was still holding out, and the works to the northwest had not been threatened. On the withdrawal of the mounted troops the Infantry would be in a most insecure position with its right flank entirely in the air. In view of these facts and in consultation with General Officer Commanding Desert Column, whose battle headquarters were still established with my own, I gave the order for the mounted troops to be withdraw, and for the 53rd and 54th Divisions to take up a line extending from Gaza on the left through Mansura and El Burjaliye, the 54th Division extending its left to join up with the 53rd Division, and throwing Its right back down the El Burjaliye Ridge.
This unfortunately necessitated the evacuation of the positions gained, but there appeared to be no alternative in view of the risk of any other measure.
These dispositions were arranged personally with General Officer Commanding Desert Column, who had a copy of my orders to the 54th Division.
8. The line indicated above was taken up without serious interference from the enemy. On the morning of the 27th, General Dallas, under instructions from General Officer Commanding Desert Column, made efforts to re-establish himself on Ali Muntar. Turkish reinforcements, however, reached Gaza early and our troops were unable to recover positions. Soon afterwards, the enemy engaged the 54th Division from the direction of Sheikh Abbas.
During the 27th there was intermitent shelling and infantry fire. Since I had not Succeeded in my project to capture the enemy's advanced force in Gaza by a coup de mains, and as I Judged that my force would require a week to ten days to organise for a deliberate attack on the enemy's positions, which organisation would be much delayed if carried out on the position I then occupied I decided to withdraw to a strong position on the west of the Wadi Ghuzze.
9. This action has had the result of bringing tke enemy to battle, and he will now undoubtedly stand with all his available force in order to fight us when we are prepared to attack. It has also given to our troops an opportunity of displaying the splendid fighting qualities which they possess. So far as all ranks of the troops engaged were concerned it was a brilliant victory, and had the early part of the day been normal that victory would have been secured. Two more hours of daylight would have sufficed to finish the work which the troops so magnificently executed, after period of severe hardships, long marches, and in face of most stubborn resistance.
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