Egyptian Expeditionary Force 1917 - 1918
Allenby's Dispatch December 16, 1917 (Part 2)
|Advance from Beersheba.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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
7th8th, 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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.)