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Remembered Today:

2nd GAZA


Greg Bloomfield
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Pals

I've tried the search facility without any luck although I'm sure that what I'm looking for is there somewhere. Can anybody point me to a good account of this battle, more specifically the events of 19th April and 54th Div's part in it, mapping would be a bonus if it isn't asking too much.

Greg

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Pals

I've tried the search facility without any luck although I'm sure that what I'm looking for is there somewhere. Can anybody point me to a good account of this battle, more specifically the events of 19th April and 54th Div's part in it, mapping would be a bonus if it isn't asking too much.

Greg

.

Greg

The second battle of Gaza, 17-19 April 1917, was the second British attempt to capture Gaza in under a week. The first attempt, on 26-2 March, had come close to success before a lack of information forced the British commander, General Dobell, to cancel the attack. The British failure encouraged the Turks to make a stand at Gaza.

The German command of the Turkish forces at Gaza, Kress von Kressenstein, had a force of 18,000 infantry, with 96 machine guns and 101 guns. The Turks constructed a series of strong fortifications. A continuous line of defences ran from the coast to a ridge two miles south west of the town, then onto the Ali Muntar ridge and long that ridge until it was east of Gaza. East of Gaza five strong redoubts, supported by trenches and barbed wire, stretched out along the road to Beersheba. Each of these positions was able to support their neighbours.

The British outnumbered the Turks by at least 50% in infantry alone. Dobell had three infantry divisions (close to 30,000 men) and two mounted divisions, supported by 170 artillery guns (although only 16 were medium or heavy), the French battleship Requin and two British monitors. For the first time the British deployed tanks in the desert, although only eight rather worn out tanks could be spared. The force was completed by 25 aircraft.

Earlier in 1917 the British War Cabinet had decided not to launch an invasion of Palestine until late in the year. Events in March changed their minds. On 11 March General Maude finally captured Baghdad. The same month saw the first Russian Revolution. Initially it was hoped that the new Russian government would be more efficient that the Tsar, and a new offensive was planned that would combine a Russian advance in the Caucasus with a British advance from Baghdad. The British commander in Egypt, Sir Archibald Murray, was ordered to immediately invade Palestine, and capture Jerusalem.

This order forced him to launch a frontal assault on the Turkish positions at Gaza. The British supply line ran along a coastal railway that ran across the Sinai. In April the eastern end of the railway was only eight miles from Gaza, making it relatively easy to supply the army at Gaza, but the desert to the south was waterless.

Dobell decided on a two stage attack. On 17 April, in the first stage of the battle, the British captured a line from the sea to Shah Abbas ridge. This was to be used as a base for the next stage of the attack.

The second stage of the attack came on 19 April. The 53rd Division attacked along the coast. To its right the 52nd Division attacked along the Es Sire ridge toward the Ali Muntar ridge. On the right the 54th Division attacked the redoubts south east of Gaza. Once the 54th Division had cleared the redoubts, it was to wheel to the left and attack the Ali Muntar Ridge.

The bombardment began at 7.15 am. The first infantry attack, along the coast, began at 7.15am, and at 7.30am the 52nd and 54th divisions joined in. The attack was a total failure. At no point were the Turkish lines seriously threatened. The 54th division made the most progress. One tank reached the second redoubt out from Gaza and held part of the line for a short period, but there was no opportunity to expand the area held, and the British were soon forced back. Elsewhere part of the same division reached the Turkish front line, but could not capture it.

The attack was broken off in the early evening. Both commanders planned further attacks on 20 April. Dobell cancelled his planned attacks as more information came in about the days fighting, while Kress was overruled by Djemal Pasha, the Turkish minister of marine and governor of Palestine and Syria. The British had suffered 6,444 casualties during the attack, half of them in the 54th division. Turkish loses were much lower, at only 2,000.

post-26298-1195486401.jpg

map taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Second_...of_Gaza_map.jpg

Paul

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Paul

Great stuff and much appreciated, things are getting clearer now. Any idea what the ground was like to the east, just off the map, and why no attempt was made to turn the Turkish flank? This sort of head on assault had got nobody anywhere in Europe for nearly three years, was there some particular reason why it was supposed that it work this time?

Greg

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Look on Google Earth, it all lines up quite nicely. As far as I can tell the area of operations for 54th Div was in the top right of the broad picture. With the Ali Muntar position being on the modern Israeli border (the red line), above what looks like a reservoir.

If I am wrong we will soon know.

Gareth

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post-890-1195490155.jpg

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why no attempt was made to turn the Turkish flank? This sort of head on assault had got nobody anywhere in Europe for nearly three years, was there some particular reason why it was supposed that it work this time?

I suspect that part of the answers rests in the fact that the initial attack at Gaza a few weeks earlier had been so close to success that a second did not seem such a terrible idea. A victory would have deliverered great news back home at a bleak time. In the end of course the British Empire troops crashed headlong into a strengthened Turkish position and the attack failed. Don't forget also that a move further inland in strength at that time would have weakened the defence of the EEF supply line, which ran along the coast of Sinai to Egypt. Only when significant reinforcements arrived during the summer months did the new commander - Allenby - feel strong enough to go for the outflanking move that he performed in October - which of course worked so well in the end but which still included an assault on the main Gaza position.

Nick

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Mates

To expand on Nick's comment but also to add a couple more controversial conclusions.

I have read the conventional histories and the thing that is most important about them are the things that are missed in the commentary rather the information that is included. If the official histories and might I add, quite a few of the unit histories were a bit more honest in their assessments, the very legitimate question asked by Greg would have already been answered through the texts.

So let us go back into the battles that preceded Gaza, Magdhaba and Rafa. Both these battles were close run things and won only through greater staying powers of the diggers. On both occasions the Generals - Chauvel and Chetwode - panicked and called for a withdrawal before the battle was won. On both occasions the call was ignored and the battle won. The key officer responsible for ignoring the orders was General "Fighting Charlie" Cox. There was no way that Chauvel could have done anything to reprimand him for disobedience of orders after two victories. However, in private, I imagine that Chauvel would have made it abundantly clear to Cox that orders were to be obeyed. The reason why I conclude this is that at Gaza 1, despite evidence to the contrary indicating an outright victory, Cox obeyed the order of Chauvel and gave up the hard won positions to retreat, thus allowing the Allies to snatch defeat out of the jaws of victory.

We need to look at this in context. Murray was a leader from behind a desk in Cairo. He was given limited men, poor resources and a very limited set of instructions from London. Basically London was happy to concede all territory east Romani to the Turks. If it wasn't for the mobility and resilience of those damned Anzacs, he would have been able to follow these orders. But the attacks on Bir el Abd and Bir el Mazar, both of which failed, prompted the Turks to move to El Arish. When the Anzacs were logistically able to move onto El Arish and threaten it, the Turks withdrew to Palestine before giving battle. However they did leave two outposts in the Sinai, Magdhaba and Rafa.

The Battle of Magdhaba was one of those occasions which exemplified the quality of generalship. This was where Chauvel never missed an occasion to miss an occasion. While the victory was of local strategic significance, the broader tactical victory was missed. Chauvel's panicked decision to withdraw early was made light of by the history books because of the subsequent victory of Cox. However, in the study of generalship, this was an appalling situation where subordinates demonstrated a lack of confidence in the orders of a superior and flagrantly disobeyed the command.

Despite the leadership lapse between Cox and Chavel, there was much worse lapse which can be specifically laid at the feet of Chauvel and Chetwode: the tactical opportunity missed was an unopposed advance on Beersheba resulting in the outflanking of the entire Turkish coastal defences. The capture of Magdhaba meant that for 4 days, there were no Turkish forces on the back road via Hebron until Jerusalem, and even then there were few forces available. While General Kress was also panicking with the knowledge that Jerusalem was open to attack, he did everything in his power to prevent any flanking attack. When Chauvel did not take up the opportunity to outflank the Turks, Kress breathed a sigh of relief. he had won by default. The result was Rafa, a near won battle and two disasters at Gaza necessitating a third battle. Dobel and Murray were the sacrificial lambs for the failure of decisive generalship.

Having failed to undertake the tactical offensive, the troops were condemned to operate close to the coast where the rail and water pipe followed. From Um Urgan and El Shellal, no flanking movement could be considered until all the water in the area had been properly surveyed and Turkish strength assayed. In addition, it was important to have at hand overwhelming superiority of numbers. This was the task of Allenby undertook and did well.

So in a round about answer, at Gaza 1, the Anzacs did undertake a flanking movement and indeed outflanked the garrison at Gaza which made the retreat ever so much more bitter. They knew they had won the battle. So did the Turks. Indeed the Turks were ready to haul up the white flag in the morning and surrender. When they were about to do so, they realised that there was no one to surrender to.

By the time of Gaza 2, all the defensive holes had been plugged by the Turks. Since there was no possibility to outflank due to distance and water, a frontal assault was envisaged. However, not like the classical style where there is one strong point of the attack, the Allied forces were attacking in weakness along a long line. To give you an idea of the attacking strength, by the afternoon at Atawineh Ridge, the attacking squadrons of the 9th Light Horse Regiment were down to 14 men each covering a front of 800m. This is a risible number of men used for an offensive against a strongly defended position. It also says much about the volume of casualties that day when both attacking squadrons began the offensive with about 100 men a piece. It says everything about their courage under adverse conditions. It also says everything in regards to poor leadership at the top.

I hope this goes somewhere to help explain the basis of the debacle at Gaza 2.

Cheers

Bill

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Greg - are you looking for a particular Btn, Bde or unit, or just general info?

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Mate,

If you enter 2nd Gaza on the search funtion you will find a number of enties for this battle.

I have placed an account of the Camel Bde's attack with the Div you are after on the Tank Redoubt some where here.

If you can't find it let us know and I'll post it.

S.B

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Thanks to all for the replies. Isn't it typical, I punched in '2nd Gaza' into the search thingy yesterday and 'no results' came back. As soon as somebody tells you to do it the thing works perfectly!

Steve, I'm looking into 1/4 Norfolk or 163 Bde. Rob Carmen has kindly supplied me with the unit war diaries but I'm trying to flesh them out a bit. My village lost a couple of lads at 2nd Gaza and I'm attempting to make their loss a bit clearer. I think I'll spend the rest of the day trawling through all the material thrown up by the search facility!

Regards

Greg

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I imagine yo have this or somethign similar already but, in case ...

post-1637-1195593189.jpg

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Steve

I've got nothing like it! Its been a great help and thanks for taking the trouble.

Greg

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My grandfather was serving with the 10th (Shropshire & Cheshire Yeomanry) Battalion Kings Shropshire Light Infantry during 1917 and the following is taken from his 'Notes on Palestine':

"Although we had high been under high explosive and shrapnel fire many times previous to the battle of Gaza on April 19/17 when waiting in reserve during the battle we saw the awful results of modern warfare.

"The battle was the biggest ever fought in Palestine and although we inflicted heavy casualties on the Turks we had to pay the price for our gains. As the sun lifted over the black hills of Judea, we were aroused by the roar of guns after being on the march all night; everybody was very tired but the booming of the gun from land and sea very soon made us realise a great battle had begun. The air and earth fairly shook, shells of all calibres up to 11 inches, tore slits into the elaborate Turkish defences, the battleships pouring a deadly fire into the forts on the hills around the city, and our comrades commenced to advance about 8.30 a.m. I saw the men walking across the plain before Gaza, every man a hero, they moved forward with splendid steadiness through a shower of shrapnel and high explosives and owing to the open ground many brave fellows, dropped, never to rise again as I watched them advance. Their sacrifices were not made in vain, on the left, Samson’s ridge was gained and the trenches found full of dead; observation were seized near Alimuntar, but south of Gaza progress was slower owing to a desperately heavy machine gun fire. Scottish troops advanced 2000 yds and captured Out-post Hill where they consolidated their gains. Between 9.a.m. and 10.a.m. I saw a tank ploughing through the ground, and in spite of deadly fire from the Austrian gunners, stood with her nose in the air and poured rapid fire right and left down the Turkish trenches. Our aeroplanes were coming and going with news of the fight, duels took place, but they were engaged on more important work, and avoided fights so that they could give every attention to directing our deadly artillery fire. Just after a duel a “Taube” swooped down and bombed our position fragments flew all around us, several were hit within two yards of me and two poor fellows were blown to pieces about thirty yards away. Shortly afterwards the wounded from the thick of the battle commenced to arrive at the first clearing station only a short distance from our position, news of the battle were exchanged and after rough dressing the stretcher bearing camels very soon conveyed them to the rear.

"Great excitement arose when orders came to “saddle up” at last we were required, our Company, in fact our platoon had the honour to lead the way, pals shook hands and exchanged remarks about those dear to us at home. We were just moving forward, when orders were cancelled, what had happened I cannot say, I suppose we ought to have thanked God but when one gets strung up to fighting pitch, danger does not enter your thoughts and we moved to another position somewhat disappointed."

The 'incident' involving the bombing from the Taube, so graphically described by my grandfather, was simply covered by the following entry for 19 April in the 10th Bn KSLI War Diary:

Reached position 2000 yards SE of MANSURA ridge 0400. Dug in: remained in reserve ready to move during day. Capt. Jones injured by shell fire. 2 OR killed by bomb from aeroplane.

David

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David

Thats exactly why I'm trying to dig deeper. Unit war diaries are understandably very brief as there were far more pressing things to be getting on with, especially when a unit was in action. Sometimes the loss of a few hundred men is hardly mentioned, as if it was 'just another day at the office'. Thankfully there is still plenty of material around or people such as the Pals with knowledge or advice to steer you in the right direction.

Greg

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