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The Egyptian Expeditionary Force 1917 - 1918
General Allenby's Dispatch – December 16, 1917 (Part 2)
Advance from Beersheba.
10. Meanwhile on our right flank the water and transport difficulties were found to be greater than anticipated, and the preparations for the second phase of the attack were somewhat delayed in con- sequence.

On the early morning of Nov. I the 53rd (Welsh) Division, with the Imperial Camel Corps on its right, had moved out into the hills north of Beersheba, with the object of securing the flank of the attack on Sheria. Mounted troops were also sent north along the Hebron Road to secure Dhaheriyeh if possible, as it was hoped that a good supply of water would be found in this area, and that a motor road which the Turks were reported to have constructed from Dhaheriyeh to Sheria could be secured for our use.

The 53rd (Welsh) Division, after a long march, took up a position from Towal Abu Jerwal (six miles north of Beersheba) to Muweileh (four miles north-east of Abu lrgeig). Irish troops occupied Abu lrgeig the same day.

On Nov. 3 we advanced north on Ain Kohleh and Tel Khuweilfeh, near which place the mounted troops had engaged considerable enemy forces on the previous day. This advance was strongly opposed, but was pushed on through difficult hill country to within a short distance of Ain Kohleh and Khuweilfeh. At these places the enemy was found holding a strong position with considerable and increasing forces. He was obviously determined not only to bar any further progress in this direction, but, if possible, to drive our flankguard back on Beersheba. During the 4th and 5th he made several determined attacks on the mounted troops. These attacks were repulsed.

By the evening of Nov. 5 the 19th Turkish Division, the remains of the 27th and certain units of the 16th Division had been identified in the fighting round Tel el Khuweilfeh, and it was also fairly clear that the greater part of the hostile cavalry, supported apparently by some infantry ("depot" troops) from Hebron, were engaged between Khuweilfeh and the Hebron Road.

Enemy's Counter-Stroke Defeated.
The action of the enemy in thus employing the whole of his available reserves in an immediate counter-stroke so far to the east was apparently a bold effort to induce me to make essential alterations in my offensive plan, thereby gaining time and disorganizing my arrangements. The country north of Beersheba was exceedingly rough and hilly, and very little water was to be found there. Had the enemy succeeded in drawing considerable forces against him in that area the result might easily have been an indecisive fight (for the terrain was very suitable to his methods of defence) and my own main striking force would probably have been made too weak effectively to break the enemy's centre in the neighbourhood of Sheria Hareira. This might have resulted in our gaining Beersheba, but failing to do more— in which case Beersheba would only have been an incubus of a most inconvenient kind. However, the enemy's action was not allowed to make any essential modification to the original plan, which it had been decided to carry out at dawn on .Nov. 6.

By the evening of Nov. 5, all preparations had been made to attack the Kauwukah and Rushdi systems and to make every effort to reach Sheria before nightfall.

The mounted troops were to be prepared in the event of a success by the main force to collect, as they were somewhat widely scattered owing to water difficulties, and push north in pursuit of the enemy. Tel el Khuweilfeh was to be attacked at dawn on the 6th, and the troops were to endeavour to reach the line Tel el Khuweilfeh-Rijm el Dhib.

Assault on Kauwukah and Rushdi.
II. At dawn on the 6th the attacking force had taken up positions of readiness to the S.E. of the Kauwukah system of trenches. The attack was to be commenced by an assault on the group of works forming the extreme left of the enemy's defensive system, followed by an advance due west up the railway, capturing the line of detached works which lay east of the railway. During this attack London and Irish troops were to advance towards the Kauwukah system, bringing forward their guns to within wire- cutting range. They were to assault the south-eastern face of the Kauwukah system as soon as the bombardment had proved effective, and thence take the remainder of the system in enfilade.

The attack progressed rapidly, the Yeomanry storming the works on the enemy's extreme left with great dash ; and soon after noon the London and Irish troops commenced their attack. It was completely successful in capturing all its objectives, and the whole of the Bushdi system in addition. Sheria Station was also captured before dark. The Yeomanry reached the line of the Wadi Sheria to Wadi Union ', and the troops on the left were close to Hareira Redoubts, which was still occupied by the enemy. This attack was a fine performance, the troops advancing eight or nine miles during the day and capturing a series of very strong works covering a front of about seven miles, the greater part of which had been held and strengthened by the enemy for over six months. Some 600 prisoners were taken and some guns and machine guns captured. Our casualties were comparatively slight. The greatest opposition was encountered by the Yeomanry in the early morning, the works covering the left of the enemy's line being strong and stubbornly defended.

During the afternoon, as soon as it was seen that the attack had succeeded, mounted troops were ordered to take up the pursuit and to occupy Huj and Jemmamah.

The 53rd (Welsh) Division had again had very severe fighting on the 6th. Their attack at dawn. on Tel el Khuweilfeh was successful, and, though they were driven off a hill by a counter-attack, they retook it and captured another hill, which much improved their position. The Turkish losses in this area were very heavy indeed, and the stubborn fighting of the 53rd (Welsh) Division, Imperial Camel Corps, and part of the mounted troops during Nov. 2 to 6 drew in and exhausted the Turkish reserves and paved the way for the success of the attack on Sheria. The 53rd (Welsh) Division took several hundred prisoners and some guns during this fighting. (See PLATE 8.)

The Fall of Gaza, Nov. 7.
12. The bombardment of Gaza had meanwhile continued, and another attack was ordered to take- place on the night of the 6th-7th.

The objectives were, on the right, Outpost Hill and Middlesex Hill (to be attacked at 11.30 p.m. on the 6th), and on the left the line Belah Trench-Turtle Hill (to be attacked at dawn on the 7th).

During the 6th a .certain amount of movement on the roads north of Gaza was observed by our air- men and fired on by our heavy artillery, but nothing indicating a general retirement from Gaza.

The attack on Outpost Hill and Middlesex Hill met with little opposition, and as soon, after they had been taken, as patrols could be pushed forward, the enemy was found to be gone. East Anglian troops on the left also found at dawn that the enemy had retired during the night, and early in the morning the main force occupied the northern and eastern defences of Gaza. Rearguards were still occupying Beit Hanun and the Atawineh and Tank systems, from whence Turkish artillery continued to fire on Gaza and Ali Muntar till dusk.

As soon as it was seen that the Turks had evacuated Gaza a part of the force pushed along the coast to the mouth of the Wadi Hesi, so as to turn the Wadi Hesi line and prevent the enemy making any stand there. Cavalry had already pushed on round the north of Gaza, and became engaged with an enemy rearguard at Beit Hanun, which maintained its position till nightfall. The force advancing along the coast reached the Wadi Hesi by evening, and succeeded in establishing itself on the north bank in. the face of considerable opposition, a Turkish rearguard making several determined counter-attacks.

On our extreme right the situation remained practically unchanged during the 7th; the enemy made no further attempt to counter-attack, but maintained his positions opposite our right flank guard. In the centre the Hareira Tepe Redoubt was captured at dawn ; some prisoners and guns were taken. The London troops, after a severe engagement at Tel el Sheria, which they captured by a bayonet charge at 4 a.m., on the 7th, subsequently repulsing several counter-attacks, pushed forward their line about a mile to the the north of Tel el Sheria ; the mounted troops on the right moved towards Jemmamah and Huj, but met with considerable opposition from hostile rearguards. (See PLATE 9.)

Charge of the Yeomanry at Huj, Nov. 8.
. 13. During the 8th the advance was continued, and interest was chiefly centred in an attempt to- cut off, if possible, the Turkish rearguard which had held the Tank and Atawineb systems. The enemy had, however, retreated during the night 7th—8th, and though considerable captures of prisoners, guns, ammunition, and other stores were made during the day, chiefly in the vicinity of Huj, no large formed body of the enemy was cut off. The Turkish rearguards fought stubbornly and offered considerable opposition. Near Huj a fine charge by some squadrons of the Worcester and Warwick Yeomanry captured twelve guns, and broke the resistance of a hostile rearguard. It soon became obvious from the reports of the Royal Flying Corps, who throughout the 7th and 8th attacked the retreating columns with bombs and machine-gun fire, and from other evidence, that the enemy was retiring in considerable disorganization, and could offer no very serious resistance if pressed with determination. (See PLATE 10.)

Instructions were accordingly issued on the morning of the 9th to the mounted troops, directing them on the line El Tine-Beit Duras, with orders to press the enemy relentlessly. They were to be supported by a portion of the force, which was ordered to push forward to Julis and Mejdel.

The enemy opposite our right flank guard had commenced to retreat towards Hebron on the morning of the 8th. He was pursued for a short distance by the Yeomanry, and some prisoners and camels were captured, but the Yeomanry were then recalled to rejoin the main body of the mounted troops for the more important task of the pursuit of the enemy's main body.

By the 9th, therefore, operations had reached the stage of a direct pursuit by as many troop? as could be supplied so far in front of railhead. The problem, in fact, became one of supply rather than manoeuvre. The question of water and forage was a very difficult one. Even where water was found in sufficient quantities, it was usually in wells and not on the surface, and consequently if the machinery for working the wells was damaged, or a sufficient supply of troughs was not available, the process of watering a large quantity of animals was slow and difficult.

Increased Turkish Resistance.
14. On the evening of Nov. 9 there were indications that the enemy was organizing a counter- attack towards Arak el Menshiye by all available units of the force which had retired towards Hebron, with the object of taking pressure off the main force, which was retiring along the coastal plain. It was obvious that the Hebron force, which was believed to be short of transport and ammunition, to have lost heavily and to be in a generally disorganized state, could make no effective diversion, and that this threat could practically be disregarded. Other information showed the seriousness of the enemy's losses and the disorganization of his forces. (See PLATE II.)

Orders were accordingly issued to press the pursuit and to reach the Junction Station as early as possible, thus cutting off the Jerusalem Army, while the Imperial Camel Corps was ordered to move to the neighbourhood of Tel el Nejile, where it would be on the flank of any counter-stroke from the hills.

Operations on the 10th and 11th showed a stiffening of the enemy's resistance on the general line of the Wadi Sukereir, with centre about El Kustineh; the Hebron group, after an effective demonstration in the direction of Arak el Menshiye on the 10th retired north-east and prolonged the enemy's line towards Beit Jibrin. Royal Flying Corps reports indicated the total hostile forces opposed to us on this line at about 15.000 ; and this increased resistance, coupled with the capture of prisoners from almost every unit of the Turkish force, tended to show that we were no longer opposed to rearguards, but that all the remainder of the Turkish Army which could be induced to fight was making a last effort to arrest our pursuit south of the important Junction Station.

In these circumstances our progress on the 10th and 11th was slow; the troops suffered considerably from thirst (a hot, exhausting wind blew during these two days), and our supply difficulties were great; but by the evening of the 11th favourable positions had been reached for a combined attack.

(See PLATES 12 & 13.)

The 12th was spent in preparations for the attack, which was ordered to be begun early on the morning of the 13th, on the enemy's position covering Junction Station. Our forces were now operating at a distance of some thirty-five miles in advance of their railhead, and the bringing up and distribution of supplies and ammunition formed a difficult problem. The routes north of the Wadi Hesi were found to be hard and good going, though there were some difficult wadi crossings, but the main road through Gaza and as far as Beit Hanun was sandy and difficult. The supply of water in the area of operations, though good and plentiful in most of the villages, lies mainly in wells 100 feet or more below the surface, and in these circumstances a rapid supply and distribution was almost impossible. Great credit is due to all concerned that these difficulties were overcome and that it was found possible not only to supply the troops already in the hue, but to bring up two heavy batteries to support the attack.

15. The situation on the morning of NOV. 13 was that the enemy had strung out his force (amounting probably to no more than 20,000 rifles in all) on a front of twenty miles, from El Kubeibeh on the north to about Beit Jibrin to the south. The right half of his line ran roughly parallel to and only about five miles in front of the Ramleh-Junction Station railway, his main hue of supply from the north, and his right flank was already almost turned. This position had been dictated to him by the rapidity of our movement along the coast, and the determination with which his rearguards on this flank had been pressed. The advanced guard of the 52nd (Lowland) Division had forced its way almost to Burkah on the 11th, on which day also some mounted troops pushed across the Nahr Sukereir at Jisr Esdud, where they held a bridge-head. During the 12th the Yeomanry pushed north up the left bank of the Nahr Sukereil. and eventually seized Tel el Murreh on the right bank near the mouth.

The hostile commander may have hoped to exercise some moral effect on our plans by the presence of the southern portion of his forces on the flank of our advance ; if so, he was mistaken. The Australian mounted troops, extended over a wide front, not only secured this flank but pressed forward on the 12th towards Balin, Berkusie, and Tel es Safi. Their advanced troops were counter-attacked and driven back a short distance, but the enemy made no effort to press further forward. Arrangements were then made to attack on the 13th.

The country over which the attack took place is open .and rolling, dotted with small villages sur- rounded by mud walls with plantations of trees outside the walls. The most prominent feature is the line of heights on which are the villages of Katrah and El Mughar, standing out above the low flat ground . which separates them from the rising ground to the west, on which stands the village of Beshshit, about 2,000 yards distant. This Katrah-EI Mughar line forms a very strong position, and it was here that the enemy made his most determined resistance against the turning movement directed against his right flank. The capture of this position by the 52nd (Lowland) Division, assisted by a most dashing charge of mounted troops; who galloped across the plain under heavy fire and turned the enemy's position from the north, was a fine feat of arms. Some 1,100 prisoners, three guns, and many machine guns were taken here. After this the enemy resistance weakened, and by the evening his forces were retiring east and north. (See PLATE 14.)

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