Defences in the Sinai/Palestine border 1916/17

Discussions on the final era of the Ottoman Empire, from the Young Turk Revolution of 1908 until the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923.
stevebecker
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Defences in the Sinai/Palestine border 1916/17

Post by stevebecker » 30 Jul 2007 00:58

Mates,

I am in a discussion with Bill on the LH site about the defences in Sinai and Palestine in Dec 1916 and Jan 1917.

Bill mentions that Kress said that they was little to stop a British advance on Beersheba straight after the 80th Regt was destroyed at Magdhaba on the 23rd Dec 1916.

Now a map given by Tosun clearly shows that the 3rd Div was in between any British advence after Magdhaba.

The 31st Regt at Rafa and the 32nd Regt at El Auja. these would block any advance by Chavuel.

Did Kress not know about these forces or were they there in Dec 1916?

Now I believe they were there and were strong units of a crack vetern Division that had been there since Aug 1916 but others don't believe that.

What can you give about this time.

Cheers

S.B

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 30 Jul 2007 08:59

I thought the British railheads weren't developed enough to advance upon Beersheba but that coud be another issue.

But as Napoleon always said--"Audacity,audacity...".

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Post by stevebecker » 30 Jul 2007 11:32

Peter,

Yes thats one of the many reason why Murray couldn't advance, others were the water pipe line and El Arish had just fallen and needed to be built up with troops and supplies for future use.

Add to that there was only one Cav Div (Chavuel's) and elements of one Infantry Div around El Arish.

But Kress mentions there was notting to stop the British if they wanted to after Magdhaba advance strait to Jerusalem via Beersheba in Dec 1916 after Megdhaba fell. Kress does mention the main turkish forces were at El Ajua which covers the Turkish rail line, but he makes not mention of those Turkish forces covering Gaza and at Beersheba in Dec 1916.

This is Bill argument, but I am still of the view that the 3rd Turkish Div was between Gaza and Beersheba in Dec 1916 to stop any advance by the British Cavalry via El Arish.

Can we confirm when the 31st Regt moved down to Rafa and the defences were started on Gaza.

Tosum map gives the idea that this Regt may have moved in jan 1917 and there was no troops around Rafa and Gaza other then a Bn of the 80th Regt not destroyed at Magdhaba.

Cheers

S.B

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 31 Jul 2007 14:27

Mate

Has something got a quote from Kress on the situation?

I assume its from his book The Campaign in Palestine from the Enemy's Side.


Peter

stevebecker
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Post by stevebecker » 31 Jul 2007 22:57

Peter,

I am not sure, Bill mentioned some quote from Kress with the details of few troops to stop any advance on Beersheba.

But can you blokes help with these details in the meanwhile,

Where were the positions of the 3rd Div following the Romani and Magdhaba battles.

Where were the three Regts of the 3rd Div (31, 32, 160) during Dec 1916

When did the 3rd Cav Div arrive near Gaza Beersheba? (sent to Palestine between Oct -Dec 1916)

Purhaps if these questions are answered then I can see if Kress was right?

Cheers

S.B

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Bill Woerlee
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Post by Bill Woerlee » 31 Jul 2007 23:08

Peter

G'day mate

Now that I have developed the outline to my argument, I will trace the sources of these comments. In the book "Mit den Tèurken zum Suezkanal" by Friedrich Freiherr Kress von Kressenstein he gives the following description of the evacuation of El Arish and the Battle of Magdhaba at pp 207-8:
In the middle of December the British had built their railway to with about 20km of El Arish; our pilots observed a major consolidation of the British forces along the rail line, so it was with a heavy heart that I was ordered to pull out our troops from el Arish and take them back to Palestine through Magdhaba. On 22 December I drove from el Auja to Magdhaba, in order to visit the regiment. There were five substantial redoubts constructed with minor communication trenches which surrounded the garrison. Like everywhere, unfortunately it was missing war material necessary to create obstacles. There were men from the 80th Infantry Regiment infantry, a Camel Corps Squadron and a mountain battery with outdated cannons, all told the staff and seven raw companies. I was satisfied with the spirit and health of these troops and the arrangements made.

When I returned to el Auja late that evening, I found a message that in the course of the day, under the protection of nine warships, a division of the enemy’s cavalry entered El Arish and after my departure from Magdhaba, eleven British aeroplanes bombed the place dropping some ninety bombs without causing serious damage. When I arrived in Jerusalem on the evening of 23 Decembers I received the message that the British had attacked Magdhaba and had taken the whole garrison prisoner.
It is the next paragraph in his book that gives a inkling of a potentially devastating tactical victory rather than a local strategic victory as a consequence of Magdhaba.
Unpleasant and serious concerns for Christmas! If the British at Magdhaba decided to go onto el Auja and Beersheba, there was nothing in their way to stop them. The way to Jerusalem was open to the enemy. I raised the alarm and sent units to Beersheba and el Auja by lorry and marching. I was upset over losing our poor comrades around Christmas but it did not change things. On the early morning of 24 I went back to Beersheba. There I received the reassuring message that the British had ridden back to El Arish during the night of 23 to 24. They were obviously satisfied with a local success.
I have been undertaking an assessment of Kress' claim in the cold hard light of the on the ground facts. Either Kress is exaggerating this situation to put dramatic stress upon his subsequent saving of the situation and thus selling himself as a hero, if only in his mind, or the circumstance he describes really did exist and its subsequent exploitation would have imperilled Gaza a year before it was taken. Until the scenario is properly assessed, this comment of Kress cannot be discarded as a glib throw away line. By checking it against the facts that actually existed on the ground, we can see if Chauvel and Chetwode made the correct tactical decision by not exploiting the victory at Magdhaba as suggested by Kress.

Cheers

Bill

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Bill Woerlee
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Post by Bill Woerlee » 31 Jul 2007 23:14

To add to the above post:

I have summarised them up on a map produced around that time - although in 1917 rather than 1916 - but it does illustrate the human geography that existed at that time. Here is the annotated map.

http://img168.imageshack.us/img168/4103 ... aa1ey1.jpg

I have marked in distances for the two legs. Then I have marked in the potential dispositions of forces at Beersheba. In addition, I have marked the only possible routes the Turks could take to attack Beersheba.

A few observations.

Since the road from el Arish to Beersheba via Magdhaba and el Auja is metalled - being some 4.5m wide with a 3m usable driving surface residing on a 30cm camber with spoon drains dug on each side, the roads would have been very suitable for the standard GS wagon used by the ASC. In addition, to cope with camel and horse traffic, a separate and parallel earthen road was built, again with a slight camber and spoon drains on each side. Basically, supply and reinforcement was not a physical problem, although it might be a logistic problem in terms of allocating resources such as wagons and camels, let alone the personnel to travel these distances.

The distances meant that from the moment Beersheba was taken, at best, given contemporary march times, it would take an infantry brigade about 5 days to arrive after leaving el Arish. If a train was captured at either Beersheba or el Auja, this would cut it down to 3 days. The capture of a train was highly likely at both places. Due to the mining taking place near Thamilat el Rashi, there would have been either flat tops or mining bucket rolling stock shunted on side tracks for filling purposes. However, this is a bonus, not a necessity. Plan for the worst, expect the best.

At Magdhaba, afte the attack, the water was a bonus. There was lots of it. If water is the only problem, a rail station in the days of yore, by definition, had to be sited near a large supply of water. These are steam trains that use huge amounts of water. There was a water tower and a well to supply that water. It is safe to say that there would have been more than an adequate supply of water at el Auja. Indeed, intel on el Auja was already known - reports say - "Abundant supply for fully 12,000 men from two wells, water which was run into tanks by two motor engines through 4cm pipes. Water was down some 30m in the ground." Water was not a problem at Auja. Half way along to Beersheba was Asluj where intel reported a main stone lined well 15m deep with 1.5m diameter. Two similar wells existed in the vicinity although the water was suspect in quality. Basically the intel was there for the water availability.

The line of march would not be difficult since any body of horsemen would employ the permanent way as the path and deploy along the excellent roadways. Pickets would be thrown out to screen the main body but a march along the permanent way might be tedious for the men but it would not be laborious as gradients would be designed for trains and thus be very gentle.

The stations along the way were Wadi el Abiad, Thamilat el Rashi where there was a siding, four large stone buildings and three rail lines to allow shunting, Asluj, Wadi Rakhama, another two small stations and then Beersheba. This was already known by intel. The trip is 64km or 12 hours march along the permanent way with water all the way.

Because of the problems of water which faced the AMD, especially in the interior where on the map it is marked waterless, it would also face the Turks. The forces would need to be concentrated around Beersheba with two regiments overlooking the left and right flanks. The artillery should be concentrated although not exclusively between the two regiments on the northern heights. From the notes regarding Turkish dispositions at Beersheba, this use of forces gave the most effective fields of fire to the artillery enabling them to cover quite a large perimeter with economical use. The southern approaches and Khalasa only require Squadron sized units as they are mainly trip wire screens. On the approach of a large force, they either move back to the main perimeter or they are reinforced by a mobile force. You will notice static positions only absorb half the division, the balance would be available for movement to areas of threat.

Lastly, the fellows from the camel corps would be given a static defensive position to the west of Beersheba where any strong attack would be likely to develop. This is where any extensive redoubts would need to be constructed. Because the cameleers were not able to react rapidly to a threat, static is their role.

While you mention a hostile population, I would suggest that it would be more likely less than enthusiastic in welcoming but maintaining a non violent hostility. That is fine as it would not cause too much trouble. The forces would not be openly hostile and side with the Turks - if some gold, or the promise of gold, was handed out to the local Sheik and his cronies that would be the end of any thought of active resistance. That is not to say that they would not spy on behalf of the Turks, just that they would not do anything to disrupt the AMD. For the time period involved, that would be fine. With a curfew and passes to leave town towards Gaza, the population would be well under control.

Set up like this, the rail line from Tel esh Sheria is effectively cut off as the cutting from Abu Igreig and Beersheba becomes a killing zone from the heights at the north of Beersheba. That is why it isn't highlighted as a possible route of attack.

The Hebron Road is easily cut at the hairpin bends just before Tel el Saba. The Turks found this out when they tried to reinforce the Beersheba garrison on 31 October 1917. A Regiment was sufficient to bottle up and stall any attack from this direction.

The southern approaches required little numbers as there was no possibility to move a large force to the south in an attempt to go between Khalasa and el Auja. Any movement in force could be engaged from the heights to the west of the rail line.

There would be no problem for a division of seasoned soldiers holding up and hunkering down in Beersheba. There was no possibility of being cut off and nor was there any likelihood of running out of tucker for both man and horse. Beersheba was a camel trading post bristling end to end with used camel dealers and fodder yards. Horses were also traded in some quantity so tibbin stocks were always at a high level. This is not guesswork as this was the staple of the town apart from growing wheat. Basically, the place had everything to sustain life and limb for some time.

Finally, and this is a negative highlighted by you but a plus in this case - Beersheba had an airfield. On capture, an air contingent could easily install itself in the town. A quick capture would ensure that the petrol tanks at the air field would still have plenty in them allowing a couple aircraft to be based there and assist the defenders.

Bearing all that in mind, the scheme is possible providing the Turks cooperated.

Now we come to the only imponderable - the disposition of the Turkish troops on 24-25th December. After those two days, the window was closed or so risky as not to be sensibly contemplated. It is this time frame that I am interested in. 26 Dec to 1 Jan is too late. By then troops from the north of Palestine are already moving and supports from the south are setting up a defensive perimeter to block out such a move. Any action had to be done quickly and on the next day. Delay was the end of the opportunity.

Cheers

Bill

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 01 Aug 2007 03:51

Bill

Thanks for the concise and excellent information.

Regards
Peter

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