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Sunday, 19 April 2009
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 4 February 1915, pt 2
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 The Times, 4 February 1915, pt 2


The Times, 4 February 1915, p. 11


The account is transcribed below.






There is, to speak strictly, no Egyptian season this winter - that pleasant insouciant life made up of picnics, dances, excursions, and sight-seeing, varied by Nile and desert trips, which centres round the chief hotels of Cairo, fins ceased to be. The Western countries, whence came most of the European tourists in the past, have this year sent out but a handful of British and French visitors. Egypt is closed to Germans and Austro-Hungarians; the Italians, who never formed a large proportion of the winter visitors, have decreased in numbers this winter owing partly to financial stringency at home, partly to the rather alarmist articles of some of their journalists. Owing to the general disturbance caused by the war few subjects indeed of the minor Powers have ventured out to Cairo. Remains America - but America has been hard hit by the conflict, and no more do Poppas and Mommas, rich no doubt beyond the dreams of avarice, submissively follow their smart and self-possessed daughters to Savoy dances and Ghezireh race meetings. And so the Cairo season is one of the victims of the war. Most of the chief hotels are closed. The two great hotel groups are represented only by the “Grand Continental" and "Shepherd’s," Savoy, Semiramis, Ghezireh Palace will not open this season. Helouan is an abomination of desolation, with one hotel and pension alone op en out of at least a dozen. Only the Heliopolis House Hotel, an adjunct to the huge and magnificent Heliopolis Palace, is open at the new desert city which has sprung up in the last nine .years beyond Abbassieh The Luxor Hotel at Luxor and the Grand Hotel at Assuan are open for the benefit of a few old habitués, of invalids, and of occasional officers on short leave or Angle-Egyptian officials in need of a brief rest from what, owing to the general stoppage or curtailment of leave, has been a trying year for many of them.


Yet if the season is non-existent there is animation enough in the European life of Cairo. The city has become militarized, for a very large army is quartered in or around it. Shepherd’s and the Grand Continental Hotel swarm with officers of every rank and every branch in the Imperial service-British, Indian, Colonial, and Egyptian. There was a time when N.C.O.'s and men, especially of the Colonial contingents, pervaded both hotels at all hours, but of late certain restrictions have been placed on their frequenting the hotels at certain hours.

In general, it may be said that the military have amply made up for the absence of tourists as far as Cairo is concerned. The dragomans, guides, and vendors of every species of rubbish from inefficient fly-whisks to stuffed crocodiles have thriven exceedingly. There are no tourists at Mena House, but a large force of Australians is camped near the Pyramids, and that renowned, or should I say notorious, tribe, the Pyramid Beduin, are growing deplorably prosperous at the expense of newcomers. The vendors of all sorts of refreshments, restaurant keepers, cabmen, tartars, taxi-cab drivers, &c., are making money. Egyptian and Barbering waiters have taken the place of the German and Austrian in the hotels that remain open.


The Mouski Bazaar is not doing badly, though there is naturally a falling off in the demand for the best classes of Oriental goods, and the best known vendors of Egyptian and Greek antiques have comparatively few clients. Book shops and tea shops .are doing excellent business, and one still wonders why no English bookseller has begun operations now that the Germans have left us, and why none of the many London establishments have thought of opening tea rooms in Cairo, if only for the benefit of the Australians, the tea-drinkers par excellence of a tea-drinking race.

It is only in Upper Egypt that the cessation of the tourist traffic has really been felt. Ii Cairo and its neighbourhood not only are the troops, a majority of whom receive at least 5s pay a day, spending large sums, but considerable orders for provisions, forage, &c. are given by the military authorities difficult, it is difficult, of course, to make any but a general estimate of the amount that is being spent the country by the garrison, but there is good reason to believe that it does not fall far shot of £250,000 a month. Egypt has another good reason for being grateful to the Turk.

Social gaieties have, of course, decreases. Dances are not given, but after all one cannot expect Cairo to eat, drink, and be merry when the world is at war. Charity bazaars and similar entertainments are well supported, while the ladies of the British, French, and Belgian colonies have in many cases taken up first aid courses and hospital work with rare zeal. An if the truth be told the average British resides is not altogether displeased at the absence of tourists.



Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 4 February 1915, pt 2

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 8:28 AM EADT
Saturday, 18 April 2009
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 5 February 1915
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 The Times, 5 February 1915



The Times, 5 February 1915, p. 8


The account is transcribed below.







An official communiqué summarizes the events from Tuesday night until midnight last night as follows:

Toussoum post was attacked at 3 a.m. by the enemy's infantry; and at the same time a determined attempt was made under cover of heavy maxim fire to cross the Canal by means of pontoons and rafts. At day break the enemy were seen advancing. Their artillery fired on Toussoum and Serapeum, and was answered by our artillery and the fire from our ships. After a certain amount of fighting, including an advance from Serapeum; the enemy retired at 3.30 p.m.

During the action eight officers and 282 men were made prisoners, and a large number of dead were left lying in front of our position.

H.M.S. Hardinge * was twice hit by shells, and 10 men were wounded. Our other losses were two officers and 13 men killed and 53 wounded, of which one officer and two men killed and one wounded belonged to the Egyptian Field Artillery, which gave valuable assistance.

At the Ismailia ferry at daylight the enemy were found entrenching 700 or 800 yards from our posts. Two battalions fired on us with rifles. During the day there was intermittent fire, but no infantry attack, and no casualties on our side.

At El Kantara our outposts were attacked between 5 and 6 a.m. The enemy were driven off, leaving 21 killed and 25 wounded, and 36 unwounded prisoners were left on our hands.

Later them was a partial attack from the south, but the enemy were checked 1,200 yards from our position, and eight more of their dead were found.

Our casualties were one officer slightly wounded, four Indians killed, and 24 wounded.

The total strength of the enemy's forces engaged seems to have numbered at least 12,000 men, with six batteries, but the invasion of Egypt has merely taken the form of Turkish prisoners being brought to Cairo.

The conduct of the troops, British, Indian, and Egyptian, was excellent.

* H.M.S. Hardinge is one of the troopships of the Royal Indian Marine, which on the out break of the war were equipped with armament. She is a vessel of 6,520 tons, and carries six 4.7in. guns, six 3-pounders, and 4 machine guns.

Toussoum is near the centre of the Suez Canal and Serapeum is about five miles to the southward. A map illustrating the Canal line will be found on the preceding page.




During the fighting near Toussoum four Turkish soldiers reached the west bank of the Canal and escaped into the interior.  An active search for them is being made.




Two hundred and fifty Turkish prisoners, including several officers, arrived from the Canal this morning. They were a miserable looking lot, poorly clad in the thinnest khaki or white uniform, and they visibly shivered as they marched through the town. Several were wounded.

The prisoners taken in Tuesday night's fight arrived in Cairo yesterday, closely roped together. The majority are wild-looking men, wearing tattered old Redif greatcoats, and presented a most unmilitary spectacle, resembling convicts more than anything else as they shuffled along between a guard with fixed bayonets.

An official communiqué states:-

The Canal was open for trance all day, and ships and trains passed without hindrance.

During the last few days deserters from the Turkish Army have been coming in. All state that they were forced to take up arms against their will, and they were most pleased to get away. Several belonged to an irregular body forcibly impressed from the Beduin and fellahin of Southern Palestine by Mumtaz Bey, who was formerly an aide-de-camp of Enver Pasha, and is now with the Turkish advanced guard. The deserters, who were in civilian clothes, complained of the want of supplies and the harsh treatment suffered at the hands of their officers, particularly of Mumtaz Bey himself.

They assert that large numbers are anxious to desert, and are only awaiting an opportunity.


The attack on the Canal at Toussoum south of Ismailia, is believed to have been made by an Arab regiment which seems to have been heavily punished, one battalion commander being reported a prisoner. The enemy appear to have been misled by our silence into believing that there was a gap in our line of defence, and their retreat, when vigorously attacked, it is said, by a Sikh regiment, was proportionately disorderly.

During the subsequent fighting the enemy are reported to have brought a heavy gun into action, which was responsible for two hits, but our losses were very slight considering how much ammunition the enemy expended, totalling at all points from midnight on January 2 to midnight last night two officer and 17 men killed and an officer and 92 men wounded.

In well informed quarters it is thought that the enemy were probably advancing on the Canal in three columns, of which we engaged the advanced guards. One column would seem to have advanced along the EI Arish road towards El Kantara by way of Katieh, another by way of Bir Saba - el Auga, and thence straight across the desert till it encountered our defences in the Ismailia region, while the third column believed to be near Suez and to have sent small band to make useless demonstrations in the Tor region. The last column probably followed this Akaba - Nakhl route, which is quite passable for a small force and quite impassable for a real army.

Meanwhile the beginning of real fighting a even a modest scale has aroused the utmost enthusiasm and self animation among the British Colonial, and Indian troops, some of whom till three days ago took a pessimistic view of the chance of ever seeing service in Egypt.

Vice Admiral Sir Frederick Doveton Sturdee arrived at his home at Droxford last night, and was received with great enthusiasm.



Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 5 February 1915

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 12:22 PM EADT
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 6 February 1915
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 The Times, 6 February 1915



The Times, 5 February 1915, p. 11


The account is transcribed below.





According to the latest information, the enemy has drawn off, but it' is most probable that the recent encounters were only the prelude to a real attack, which is likely to be entrusted to Turkish troops of the 4th Army Corps.

The following communiqué is issued:

There was no action yesterday of any importance.

Our patrols on the east bank of the Canal encountered and took prisoners about 200 of the enemy, also three machine guns, and a convoy of 90 camels, laden with stores and ammunition.

Evidently the engagements of the past two days were more important than, was at first imagined. The enemy left on the field more than 400 killed, and 600 prisoners were taken; but they removed most of their wounded.

Allowing five wounded for each man killed, this would give a probable total of at least 2,400 casualties, exclusive of the prisoners taken.

Among the dead at Toussoum was a German officer. There have been no fresh casualties elsewhere.

The first round of the battle for the Suez Canal may be said to have ended very decidedly in our favour. We have not inflicted a knock out blow on the enemy's advanced guard, but we have punished it severely, and scored heavily in points as far as captures and casualties are concerned. Djemal Pasha's lead off has cost him the best part of 3,000 men killed, wounded, and captured. Our losses are extraordinarily small, and the disparity in the casualties sustained certainly confirms the dictum of British official long resident in Turkey that the Ottoman Army, while not wanting either in courage or endurance, lacks "killing power."

On the other hand, though the enemy's tactics, to judge by the results, were ineffective, it is recognized that it was a fine performance on the part either of Djemal Pasha or General Kress von Kressenstein to have brought this force across the Sinai Peninsular, from Beersheba to Ismailia without imposing excessive hardships on the men.

Every report received from the front bears out the official bulletin concerning the admirable conduct of our troops, whose spirit is excellent and whose kindness to the prisoners is said rather to have astonished the latter. With such troops we have the right to be confident.



The attack on the Canal at Taussoum, south of Ismailia, is believed to have been made by an Arab regiment, which sees to have been heavily punished, one battalion commander being reported a prisoner. The enemy appear to have been misled by our silence into believing that there was a gap in our line of defence, and their retreat, when vigorously attacked, it is said, by a Sikh regiment, was proportionately disorderly.

In well informed quarters it is thought that the enemy were probably advancing on the Canal in three columns, of which we engaged the advanced guards. One column would seem to have advanced along the El Arish road towards El Kantara by way of Katieh, another by way of Bir Saba - el Auga, and thence straight across the desert till it encountered our defences in the Ismailia region, while the third column is believed to be near Suez and to have sent a small band to make useless demonstrations in the Tor region. The last column probably followed the Akaba - Nakhl route, which is quite passable for a small force and quite impassable for a real army.

Meanwhile the beginning of real fighting on even a modest scale has aroused the utmost enthusiasm; And animation among the British, colonial, and Indian troops, some of whom till three days ago took a pessimistic view of their chance of ever seeing service in Egypt.


Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 6 February 1915

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 12:39 PM EADT
Wednesday, 15 April 2009
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 8 February 1915
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 The Times, 8 February 1915


The Times, 8 February 1915, p. 8, pt 1.


The account is transcribed below.






It is now possible to form an idea of the enemy's movements and plans before the recent engagements on the Suez Canal. Contrary to the view usually held, Djemal Pasha committed to the majority of his advanced guard the more difficult line of advance from Halir-el-Auja via Wadi-el-Arish and Djebel Libni, to Ismailia and Toussoum. A comparatively small force marched from El Arish towards El Kantara via Katieh, while bodies of partisans who followed the Akaba - Nakhl road made unimportant demonstrations in the Suez region and near Tor. He doubtless expected these demonstrations to draw off our troops from more important points, and perhaps to cause some ferment in Egypt, but his expectations were disappointed.

Whatever may be said of the enemy's tactics, the arrangements for traversing the desert were good. The men had enough to eat and drink and appear to have marched well, covering the whole distance from Beersheba to the Canal in 10 marching days and arriving, in general, in good condition. Everything was done to encourage their belief that, the crossing of the Canal could be effected without difficulty.


The regimental chaplains were instructed to warn the soldiery that, while victory or Paradise awaited them in Egypt, death or Hell would claim those who retreated. The officers, some of whom appear to have been highly confident of success, added their injunctions to the exhortations of the Imams; while lying articles in the Tanin accusing British troops of massacres of "our Arab brethren"' were distributed among them, according to the time-honoured policy of the Committee of Union and Progress.

The centre column of the Turkish advanced guard was composed of troops belonging to the Eighth Army Corps, under the command of Djemal Pasha, a namesake of the Ottoman Commander-in-Chief of the Syrian Army; and to these some Turkish troops of the Fourth Army Corps were attached. Of the Beduin auxiliaries, of whom so much has been heard since the outbreak of the war in Turkey, little indeed has been seen in recent encounters, and it would appear that the huge levies of irregulars, of whom rumour told many tales of late, have either never existed or have mysteriously evaporated before the hostile advanced guard drew near the Canal.


The first fight with the advanced parties of Djemal's northern column took place on January 27. It was an unimportant affair, in which the losses on our side were small, but it showed conclusively that the enemy meant to make for a point towards Katieh. In the next few days the advanced parties were reinforced, while our airmen succeeded in dropping bombs, to the disgust of the Beduin, on hostile bodies advancing westwards. One of our aeroplanes had a narrow escape of being obliged to descend in the neighbourhood of the enemy, darting away again when almost in their clutches amid a heavy fire.

In this connexion it may be noted that the death of two airmen killed by accident by our outposts when coming in after an accident to their machine was in no wise due to error on the part of our troops. The airmen, neither of whom was a trained soldier, blew whistles when near our advanced posts, which just sighted them through the night. Our men naturally taking this as a signal to charge, opened fire with fatal results.


On February 2 the enemy's advanced guard came to within striking distance our centre. During the day a part of them came into action near Ismailia in a sandstorm which blew clouds of dust and sand over the bare desert balking the gunners, who expended quantities of ammunition and caused only six casualties among our troops. The shooting of the enemy's infantry was bad. They were heavily shelled by land and naval guns, but the dust cloud; prevented our men from ascertaining what losses they inflicted.

Meanwhile a column, composed apparently of a pontoon company of Turks, the 75th Regiment, belonging to the 25th Division with the 74th Regiment of the same division and two Anatolian battalions in support prepared an attack on our position near Toussoum, near the point where the Canal emerge from the Timsah Lake. The advanced parties had reached the little oasis of Bir Murra near the Canal. Only here was there any cover worth mentioning. Southward along our front towards Serapeum stretches an open gravel plain, bare and almost without even a camel scrub. The decision to make the first rush at night was imposed upon the Ottoman commander.


After midnight the Turks moved down to attack: The pontoon section and its immediate supports were at first unmolested.
"We heard nothing from your side," said one prisoner. "We know your trenches were somewhere near but no sound came to us. We only heard three dogs barking along way off. We reached the water and began to dig and build a pontoon bridge. We thought we must have found a gap in your line. Then a Maxim opened on us."

The Times, 8 February 1915, p. 8, pt 2.


With the steep canal bank behind them the luckless Turks who had reached the water were swept away by our fire. Many were killed and drowned. A detachment of two companies of the 75th Regiment, which supported them, suffered heavy losses. Attempts to cover the advance farther south with Maxim fire failed. The 74th Regiment supporting the 75th got a boat on the Canal, which was sunk as it reached the western bank, and a plucky officer and one soldier who survived were taken prisoners. Our Indian troops shot straight, and fought coolly and well.

The attack failed, but the action was not over. At dawn the enemy's artillery attacked to warships on Lake Timsah. Shots from a 6in. gun hit H.M.S. Hardinge twice, and it appears that one shell was sent sufficiently near the Ismailia landing-stage, where a number of habitants of the town were watching the engagement, to cause a sudden and slightly comic stampede. Later in the day a French warship, it is claimed, silenced it.


Meanwhile the British and Egyptian artillery had come into action at various points along our front. All did well. The Turkish column which renewed the attack near Toussoum and anther which moved against Serapeum, covered by heavy artillery fire, were checked and turned and finally driven eastward by our advance from Serapeum and elsewhere. Many sere killed and wounded, and a number who had entrenched themselves between Toussoum and Serapeum were attacked and overpowered, and surrendered before our troops closed in.


Meanwhile the attack, or feint, near Ismailia had no better success, and by 3 in the afternoon he Turks were in full retreat. They failed, however, to draw off all their surviving men, for the next day our troops, moving out eastward, captured come 200 prisoners, three Maxims, and a camel convoy almost without resistance.

During the action of February 3 between Ismailia and Serapeum an engagement took place at El Kantara. Here too the first attack was made before dawn. Owing to our inundations the enemy was forced to advance on a narrow front over very soft ground, where some, according to witnesses of the fight, stuck, up to their waists in mud. The attack failed before dawn came. At daybreak another attack was pushed from the south-east.


From all accounts the, enemy never had a chance of succeeding. The Syrian troops came bravely on, but our fire was too much for them. A shell from one of our warships wiped out a party of officers. A low ridge where the enemy was attempting to entrench was swept by our artillery.

The advance of the Indian troops completed the work of the guns. By 3 all was over, and on the 4th our troops, pushing out from the Canal, found that the hostile column had retreated, and had even abandoned a position several miles east, which had been strongly entrenched as a point d'appui.

Since then prisoners, rifles, and other trophies have been streaming in. The prisoners, some of whom when first captured expected to be delivered to torment, were delighted to find themselves well treated and fed. The only complaint that any of them made was that the Indian troops upbraided them severely with the disgraceful conduct of the Turkish Government, whereupon the Syrian prisoners, in many cases, were equally ready to heap curses on the Government.


The impression that the enemy's advanced guard is in full retreat from the vicinity of the Canal is confirmed by the latest available information.

The French military mission, composed of Colonel Maucorps, formerly Military Attache at Constantinople, Captain Reymond, and Lieutenant Comte de St. Quentin, formerly Secretary of the Embassy at Constantinople, arrived here yesterday.




An official communiqué issued here says:

Two Shawishes of the 75th Turkish Regiment captured at Toussoum state:

Our division (the 25th) left Beersheba for Halir-el-Auja, and then, crossing Wadi el Arish, continued its march in the desert until it reached Kataib-el-Kheil, four hours' distance from the Canal. We brought with us many boats, which were carried on cars and dragged by oxen and buffaloes.

"At Kataib-el-Kheil we were divided up into parties, each of which was ordered to attack a point on the Canal. Our party, composed of half a tabur (500 to 600 men), was ordered to attack Toussoum. We came to the Canal bank, but met with a very hot and well-aimed fire, which caused a great many casualties amongst us, and then we were surrounded by troops from behind, and so were hemmed in and made prisoners.

"Arif Bey, our commandant, was wounded and carried off the field. Our next officer was wounded and made prisoner."

A first lieutenant of the 74th Regiment states:

"My corps began its march for the final objective at 6 p.m. on February 2, and moved through the night, and was in action soon after dawn. I was in the second line until the first line was checked, and then moved up with my detachment in support. The rifle fire was very fierce as we approached the Canal, but we managed to get a boat launched with our half company. As we approached the west bank we suffered severe casualties and the boat was riddled and sank. At this point I was wounded. I landed with two boatmen and a third man all that was left of my half company. Finally I and one boatman alone survived. Where upon I surrendered to some Indian troops."

A German major, who was shot during the fight near Serapeum, was found to be carrying a white flag in a specially designed khaki wallet. There has been no fighting to-day, February 5. [See End Note.]


The Press Bureau announces that the following statement was officially issued a Cairo on February 7:

No further fighting has taken place on the Canal. Besides Arabs a number of Anatolian Turkish soldiers are deserting and giving themselves up to the British authorities They are very despondent over the failure of their attack on February 2. Some deserters state that they attempted to rejoin their regiments, but saw the German and Turkish officers shooting runaways, so though it safer to go back to the British lines.

During the recent fighting none of the enemy reached the west bank of the Canal except prisoners and the four soldiers whose escape has already been notified. No buildings in Ismailia were hit, nor did any shell come into the town; most of the enemy shells dropped into Lake Timsah.


End Note: The German major killed was Hauptmann Wilhelm von dem Hagen.


Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, The Times, 8 February 1915

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 12:36 PM EADT
Thursday, 12 March 2009
Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Official British History Account, Pt 1
Topic: BatzS - Suez 1915

Suez Canal Attack

Egypt, January 28 - February 3, 1915

 Official British History Account, Pt 1


The following is an extract from:

MacMunn, G., and Falls, C., Military Operations Egypt & Palestine - From the Outbreak of War with Germany to June 1917, London, 1928, pp. 19 -  22.


Chapter II



ON the 9th November the German commerce raider Emden was destroyed at Cocos Islands. Remote though the scene was, the effect of her disappearance was at once felt in Egypt. As soon as her menace to shipping east of Suez was removed a number of warships urgently required in Mediterranean waters were ordered westward and passed through the Canal. In the Indian Ocean there remained only one small group on the East African coast and another assisting the Persian Gulf Expedition. The Admiral of the East Indies station had in these circumstances little to occupy him, and the Admiralty decided that he could do better service in Egypt and on the Syrian coast. Vice-Admiral R. H. Peirse therefore rehoisted his flag in the Swiftsure at Suez on the1st December. On an average about four ships, British and French, were available for the defence of the Canal, being changed from time to time as circumstances required.

Meanwhile, on the 16th November, the Indian troops destined for the defence of Egypt reached Suez, and battalions were moved as quickly as possible to Ismailia and Port Said. Major-General A. Wilson, arrived from India, was appointed G.O.C. Canal Defences. The Sirhind Brigade was relieved and sailed on the 23rd to rejoin its division in France. At the same time Sir J. Maxwell was informed of Lord Kitchener's project of bringing the Australian and New Zealand contingents to Egypt for war training. The intention was to send them later to France, but temporarily they would be available as reserves in Egypt, where their appearance would undoubtedly impress public opinion.

On the 20th November occurred the first hostilities. A patrol of 20 men of the Bikanir Camel Corps, under Captain A. J. H. Chope, was attacked at Bir en Nuss, 20 miles east of Qantara, by 200 Bedouin, who approached it under a white flag. The party extricated itself creditably, though with casualties amounting to more than half its numbers. Unfortunately this affair proved that the loyalty of the camel troopers of the Egyptian Coastguard, several of whom accompanied the Bikanirs as guides, was extremely doubtful, since they allowed themselves to be made prisoners in a manner virtually amounting to desertion.

There was for a considerable period no further contact with the enemy, and for the rest of the year the headquarters of the Force in Egypt and of the Canal Defences had time to prepare defences and organize the troops. The Australian and New Zealand contingent, a magnificent but still only partly trained force, landed early in December. [The original Australian contingent consisted of one light horse brigade and one infantry division complete with artillery; that of New Zealand of 2,500 mounted troops, 5,000 infantry and one field artillery brigade.] The Indian troops were organized into two divisions, the 10th and 11th.

Lord Kitchener discussed with Sir J. Maxwell the possibility of some action against the Turkish communications with Syria. It was at this time that a diversion in the Gulf of Iskanderun, a project that was to reappear more than once in the course of the war, was first considered and rejected, after some preliminary preparations had been made. ["If any diversion is contemplated, I think the easiest, safest and most fruitful in results would be one at Alexandretta. There we strike a vital blow at the railways and also hit German interests very hard. Alexandretta would not want a very large force. All other places - Rafah, Jaffa, Acre, Beirut - are too far from the Turkish lines of communications." Sir J. Maxwell to Lord Kitchener, 4th December, 1914.] The importance of Alexandretta at this period is not made clear by a first glance at the map, because the railway line to this town from west of the Amanus Mountains is a dead end. This branch line represented the originally planned course of the Baghdad Railway, which had been altered for strategical reasons. Turkey was still a great military, but no longer a great maritime Power, and the line following the shore of the Gulf of Iskanderun was peculiarly vulnerable from the sea. The railway was therefore carried over the Amanus and then, via Islahie, to Aleppo. At the outbreak of war the Bagche tunnel, west of Islahie, was not pierced. Some eighty miles further west, in the Cilician Taurus, was another gap in the line. Troops and supplies from Constantinople had to be detrained at Bozanti, west of the Taurus gap, and moved down by road to Tarsus, whence they were railed to Alexandretta. There they took to the road again and moved by it to Aleppo or a station just west of it before returning to the railway. The alternative to the Alexandretta route was to continue along the main line to the Amanus gap, there detrain, follow the mountain road to Islahie, and again entrain for Aleppo. The Alexandretta route was the better and quicker. [The Amanus road was not suitable for wheeled traffic till the German engineer Klinghart had finished work on it in 1916 ("Sinai", Kress, i, p. 19). A traveller who crossed in January 1915 states that the mud was over his ankles and that there was no transport on the road but pack-mules and camels.]

Alexandretta, therefore, though a railhead, was a vital point on the improvised Turkish line of communications. If it were held by an enemy, Turkish troops moving to Syria would have to scramble and struggle over the Amanus road. Traffic between Turkey and Syria would be virtually stopped between January and March, and relatively small quantities of munitions could be brought through at any time of the year. The objections to the scheme were, however, at least at this period, very great. An organized field army, with modern means of transport and equipment for the landing of stores, would have been required and could have ill been spared, even if it could have been found. The Navy would have been called upon to make the bay secure against submarines and protect the sea route thereto. The landing of a British force for any operation greater than a raid would probably have resulted in risings of Armenians and of tribes such as the Nasariyeh and Ismailiyeh in the Amanus, so that, once embarked upon the enterprise, Britain would have found it almost impossible to withdraw, however urgent the reasons, and leave friends to Turkish vengeance. These considerations, the first above all, convinced Lord Kitchener and the Cabinet that in existing circumstances the passive defence of the Canal itself, on the line of the Canal, was the only possible method of protecting Egypt from attack by land.

It seemed, however, that the expected Turkish invasion was a long time brewing. Admiral Peirse was therefore instructed to employ light cruisers to harry Syrian ports particularly Alexandretta, Beirut and Haifa, with a view to stopping the movement of supplies. Early in December he had available the Doris and the Russian Askold, which had been put at his disposal. The Askold cleverly cut a German ship out of Haifa, while in the latter part of the month the Doris had a series of remarkable adventures. She began on the 13th by bombarding earthworks at El Arish and landing a party. She next landed a party at Sidon, which cut telegraph wires running along the coast and inland towards Damascus. But her most notable exploit was in the Gulf of Iskanderun, when she landed parties which blew up bridges, derailed trains, cut telegraph lines. Finally at Alexandretta, under threat of bombardment of the station, she forced the Turks to blow up two locomotives, lending them gun-cotton for the purpose. The torpedo-lieutenant sent ashore by Captain Larken to supervise their destruction was solemnly given Turkish rank for that day to preserve Turkish dignity. The end of the comedy is said to have been a claim by the Baghdad Railway Company against the Turkish Government for wanton and malicious damage to the former's property by a Turkish officer.

The raids, though justifiable by the usage of war, were afterwards discontinued in view of reprisals threatened by the Turks against Allied subjects in their hands, and it was left to the enemy to take the next step. News of the occupation of El Arish, within the Egyptian border, caused Lord Kitchener to enquire if it were not possible, with the aid of the Navy, to carry out a landing and strike at the Turks. Sir J. Maxwell replied that shallows and a choppy sea made such action difficult, adding that the force at El Arish consisted mainly of Bedouin, who would retire inland at the first appearance of British warships.


Previous Chapter: No previous chapter.

Next Chapter: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, THE CANAL DEFENCES, Official British History Account, Pt 2


Further Reading:

Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Contents

Where Australians Fought, Sinai, 1916-1917

Light Horse Battles

Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920


Citation: Suez Canal Attack, Egypt, Official British History Account, Pt 1

Posted by Project Leader at 12:01 AM EADT
Updated: Sunday, 26 April 2009 11:30 PM EADT

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