Topic: AIF - DMC - British
The First Battle of Gaza
Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917
Headquarters 161st Infantry Brigade, 54th Division Report on Operations
Headquarters 161st Infantry Brigade, 54th Division Report on Operations.
The following is a transcription of the Account from the War Diary of the Headquarters 161st Infantry Brigade, 54th Division Report on Operations detailing its role at the First Battle of Gaza, Palestine, 26 to 27 March 1917.
Headquarters 161st Infantry Brigade, 54th Division, Report on Operations
161st Infantry Brigade
Report on Operations 25th - 28th March, 1917
Reference Rafa Map 1:125,000
Orders were received on 25th that the Brigade with the 486th Field Company Royal Engineers and portions of the 1/3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance attached would move at 0600 on 26th to Tomb Sheikh Nebhan and there remain in readiness to support either the 54th Division or 53rd Division.
The morning was foggy and some difficulty was experienced in leaving bivouac.
At 0845 orders were received to move the group to a spot near el Burjabiya and this was carried out immediately except that the group reached a point near and South west of the second "E" in El Sire instead of the exact position indicated. The 271st Brigade, royal Field Artillery joined the group.
At 1310 definite instructions were received to proceed to Mansura where the group would come under the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division for subsequent operations whilst the concentration was proceeding at Mansura the General Officer Commanding 53rd Division gave orders that the 161st Infantry Brigade (less 1 Battalion) would attack and carry the hill known as green hill just south west of the hill of Ali el Muntar.
The 271st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery came under the orders of the Commander Royal Artillery 53rd Division. The attack commenced about 1600. Firing line and supports 1/4th Essex Regiment on right, 1/5th Essex Regiment on left. In Brigade Reserve 1/6th Essex Regiment and ½ Machine Gun Company 1 Section Machine Guns was sent with both the leading Battalions working independently.
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 Officer Commanding 1/6th Essex Regiment was now sent up with orders to consolidate and reorganise the defence.
Later orders were received to evacuate the position during the night and establish an outpost line further back.
Patrols were however to go forward at dawn and if the position was found unoccupied it was to be re-established.
The 1/7th Essex Regiment found the outpost line. The evacuation timed to commence at midnight 26/27 was completed by about 0500 on the 27th at which time patrols from the outpost Battalion found the Green Hill and Ali el Muntar positions both empty and they were immediately re-occupied by the 1/7th Essex Regiment (1 Company at Ali el Muntar and 2 Companies at Green Hill).
It appeared probable that the enemy would counter attack soon after dawn and this in fact occurred and a portion of the trenches on Green Hill and the whole of the Ali el Muntar were for a short time reoccupied by the enemy.
The reserve company of the 1/7th Essex Regiment had already been sent forward and the 1/6th Essex Regiment was now also sent forward and both the Ali el Muntar and Green Hill positions completely re-established. (The 1/7th Essex Regiment having in fact retaken the portion of the trenches both at Green Hill by themselves before the arrival of the 1/6th Essex Regiment.). Both positions were now consolidated as far as possible.
During the morning the approach and the entry into Gaza from the north east of large numbers of troops had been observed and reported. It seemed doubtful whether these were enemy or our Mounted Division and no information was available as to who they really were.
About 0945 a strong enemy attack on the Ali el Muntar position from all sides commenced causing its evacuation.
At about the same time the Green Hill was practically surrounded and the situation of the garrison seemed precarious.
The moment seemed most favourable for counter attack and this was asked for and a Brigade (158th Infantry Brigade) appeared to be moving forward on the Green Hill and Ali el Muntar. No development however took place and the order for counter attack was, it is understood, cancelled.
Nothing could now be done to assist the two Battalions on the Green Hill who were however not being serving attacked and as it now appears could have maintained their position.
Battalion Commanders at Green Hill 91/6th Essex Regiment and 1/7th Essex Regiment) to try and break out if opportunity occurred and the situation was again reported to higher authority. Meanwhile orders had been received to prolong the defence line which was being established to the left of the 158th Infantry Brigade on the El Sire - Ali el Muntar Ridge.
This was done a front of 600 yards being occupied by the 1/4th and 1/5th Essex Regiments and a Reserve Company of details was organised.
Later details of the 1/5th and 1/7th Essex Regiments began to rejoin and it presently appeared that practically the whole of both these Battalions had extracted themselves and had broken out of the Green Hill position.
An attack by the enemy on the line about 1830 especially along the /el sire Spur was easily beaten off.
Orders were now received to withdraw to the old bivouac at In Seirat, this was successfully accomplished, two staff officers of the Brigade Staff working with the two Battalions holding the front line. A Battalion (portion of the 1/6th Essex Regiment which has rejoined) covered the final withdrawal which however was not interfered with.
The Brigade group followed the 158th Infantry Brigade group to the Wadi Ghuzze where their routes diverged.
It was found impossible to identify the situation of the bivouac area until daybreak on the 28th, when the Brigade group (less 271st Brigade, Royal field Artillery which had withdrawn independently) assembled.
Notes:1. Artillery support was always forthcoming. It is essential that the Headquarters of the Infantry Brigadier and Artillery Commander should be identical or indirect communication.
2. The Medical arrangements were quite inadequate. The evacuation of wounded on the night of the 26th/27th had to be carried out almost entirely by Reserve and other troops which could be got together including 486th Company Royal Engineers.
3. No rations reached the Battalions during the operations and much difficulty was experienced in getting water until the afternoon of the 27th.
4. The behaviour of all ranks was admissible.
5. Casualties as far as known:-
Officers Other Ranks Killed 16 130 Wounded 43 936 Missing 6 300 TOTAL 65 1,366
The above only include units of the 161st Infantry Brigade and the 161st Machine Gun Company (Not Royal field Artillery, Royal Engineers and Royal Army Medical Corps).
Signed M Dodington, Brigadier General
Commanding 161st Infantry Brigade
28 March 1917
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